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Why Hawaii is putting its last wild donkeys up for adoption

Up to 450 donkeys that roamed the island unchecked for nearly 40 years have already found adoptive homes.

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    Wild donkeys once roamed freely on the south slopes of Mauna Kea on the island of Hawaii are rounded up and taken to the Waikii Ranch in Waikoloa, Hawaii, in 2011. The last 50 wild donkeys of a herd on Hawaii's Big Island will be rounded up to mark the final step in a six-year effort to get them in adoptive homes.
    Eugene Tanner/The Humane Society of the United States/AP/File
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The last 50 wild donkeys on Hawaii’s Big Island are being rounded up and prepared for adoption as a last push in a six-year program to find them new homes.

The donkeys are the last of a population of 500 left over from the island's early agricultural and coffee plantations that have roamed unchecked for around 40 years. They have been causing problems on the island, as a drought has sent them into residential areas in search of water. The considerable effort being undertaken to relocate them to suitable homes is indicative of a greater trend toward conscientious treatment of animals in the United States.

Some locals threatened to kill them, and others to make jerky from them. In 2010, the Humane Society stepped in and teamed up with local volunteers, organizations, and a veterinarian to find homes for the donkeys.

The Humane Society has since spent around $200,000 to get 450 donkeys adopted. The number included 120 who in 2011 were flown to Eagle-Eye Sanctuary Foundation and Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue in Northern California, which found them new homes, according to Inga Gibson, Hawaii state director for the Humane Society of the United States.

Such efforts to ensure animals are treated more compassionately and housed in ways specific to their needs are becoming increasingly common.

This year SeaWorld announced the end of its orca breeding program and a phasing out of its live shows. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus also had its final show using elephants who have now been retired to a special elephant sanctuary.

The Humane Society's Ms. Gibson praised the efforts of the local community who ran the effort without any government funding.

Local veterinarian Brady Bergin said a local rancher is working to round up the last of the donkeys by luring them into an enclosure using a water trough, he said. Once the donkeys are in, they'll be hauled to his clinic to prepare them for adoption.

Each donkey must be declared healthy and all males be castrated.

Potential donkey adopters have shown interest in around 70 to 80 percent of the last 50 donkeys. Each adopter must go through a rigorous screening process to make sure they have enough space for animals that have never had human contact, according to Gibson.

She said it can take anywhere from weeks to months to train donkeys to lead from a halter and interact with humans.

Donkeys are very social animals, so they must be adopted in pairs or have another animal to keep them company at their new home, she said.

"The adoption clause is no lone donkey," said Gibson. "They have to have a friend."

This report contains material from The Associated Press.

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