DLNR News Release-Nene Family Released as Human Family is Recognized for a Good Save

Posted on Apr 10, 2023 in Latest Department News, Newsroom

(HILO, HAWAI‘I) – Two weeks ago, a drama unfolded when a woman allegedly snagged a nēnē gosling from its parents at Wailoa River State Recreation Area in Hilo.  

Lilinoe and Lester Kahalepauole-Bustamonte, their three teenagers and toddler Piha watched as the federally and state protected bird was snatched, put into an onion bag, and spirited away. 

While the teens helped a DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) 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 (DOCARE) and from the Hawai‘i Police Department. 

Ultimately the 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 fourteen 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. 

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. 

Lilinoe Kahalepauole-Bustamonte commented, “It was just a privilege. 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.”  

Under snowcapped Mauna Kea, the group watched the family waddle off to explore their new sanctuary home. 

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(All video/images courtesy: DLNR) 

HD video – A Human Family Helps a Nēnē Family (web feature): 



HD video – Nēnē family released (April 6, 2023): 


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HD video – Family presented with DLNR & You Conservationist Award (April 6, 2023): 


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Photographs – Hilo Nēnē Sanctuary (April 6, 2023): 



Dan Dennison                                                                       

Senior Communications Manager                                      

[email protected]                                                    

(808) 587-0396