Maui News

Nēnē family released, Good Samaritans presented with Conservationist Award

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Nēnē family release (April 6, 2023). PC: DLNR Hawaiʻi

Two weeks after an alleged goose-napping incident at Wailoa River State Recreation Area in Hilo, a family of Good Samaritans were honored for their actions to help.

Officials with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources say a woman allegedly snatched the nēnē gosling from its parents and stuck it in an onion bag before fleeing with the animal in a vehicle.

Lilinoe and Lester Kahalepauole-Bustamonte, their three teenagers and toddler Piha witnessed the incident as the federally and state protected bird was snatched. 


While the teens helped a DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife biologist capture one of the parents… their own parents started following the woman and provided continuous location updates to officers from the DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement and from the Hawai‘i Police Department. 

Ultimately the alleged bird-napper was apprehended, and the gosling was reunited with its parents and taken to the Hilo Nēnē Sanctuary on the lower slopes of Mauna Kea. 

DOFAW Wildlife Biologist Raymond McGuire and his sanctuary team have kept the trio in isolation for the past 14 days, explaining, “It happens in the wild, where a baby or mate gets taken, and sometimes they go through a mourning process, but other times they’re thinking about their own survival. Putting them back together re-establishes the familial bond.” 


Thursday morning, Lilinoe, with Piha in her arms, was invited to open the gate to the nēnē family’s holding pen. It took a few minutes for the birds to discover their opening to the sanctuary. Lilinoe says she was delighted and honored to participate in the release. 

The family was then surprised with a DLNR & YOU Citizen Conservationist Award. DOFAW Hawai‘i Island Branch Manager Steve Bergfeld recounted the family’s actions and thanked them for going above and beyond the call to duty. 

Lilinoe and Lester Kahalepauole-Bustamonte, their three teenagers and toddler Piha were honored with with a DLNR & YOU Citizen Conservationist Award. PC: DLNR Hawaiʻi.

DLNR First Chair Laura Kaakua echoed the sentiment and said, “It’s presented to those community members who go above and beyond to help DLNR and our mission to protect and conserve all of Hawai‘i’s natural and cultural resources. In this instance, you folks, the Kahalepauole-Bustamonte ‘Ohana, did go above and beyond for your community, for our community of nene, for all of our native species. All of you and your entire family played a critical role and thank goodness there was that partnership between community and our Division of Forestry and Wildlife and our very dedicated DOCARE officers, as well as the county.”


“It was just a privilege,” said Lilinoe Kahalepauole-Bustamonte. “Honestly, it was just right timing and right place for us to be there. We’re grateful for the opportunity, even though we didn’t know we had that at hand. We’re grateful that you guys allowed us to come full circle and see our baby nēnē be released.” 


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