KAILUA-KONA — Mele, the young donkey that lived on the Kona Coffee Living History Farm, was killed Saturday afternoon after she was struck by what appears to have been a stray bullet fired from an adjacent agricultural property.
Dance Aoki, interim development director at Kona Historical Society (KHS), of which the farm is a part, said the bullet struck Mele in the torso. The animal died before staff found her and realized what had occurred.
“Mele was a beloved member of our museum ohana and she will be deeply missed by our staff, volunteers, visitors and friends,” Gavin Miculka, site manager at Kona Coffee Living History Farm and KHS director of interpretation, said in a press release. “To celebrate the role she played in our living history and museum programs, the Kona Coffee Living History Farm will be hosting a free public day soon to honor her.”
KHS subsequently reported the incident to the Hawaii Police Department. Major Robert Wagner said the investigation was ongoing as of Monday but that officers had already gleaned many of the facts behind the incident.
“The party was shooting at what appears to be wild chickens on his property and one of the bullets … ended up going into the neighbor’s area and striking a donkey,” Wagner explained.
Police have made a case of reckless endangering against the party, who Wagner declined to name, citing standard protocol.
Reckless endangering can be classified as either a misdemeanor or a felony “depending on the severity” of the endangerment, Wagner explained.
He added that criminal proceedings have been initiated and the case is likely to end up referred to the Hawaii County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, where official charges and penalties will be determined.
Reckless endangering can stem from discharging a firearm in a residential area but also encompasses the crime of discharging a firearm in the direction of people. It remains unclear which portion of the law police believe the suspect violated, or if he violated both.
Aoki said the pasture is in the general vicinity of farm structures where employees work and where visitors, including school children, often come to learn about historical coffee farming practices on the island.
The farm was closed at the time of the incident, she added.
“It’s hard to speculate on that particular detail,” said Aoki when asked if patrons or employees would have been in potential danger had the farm been open at the time of the incident. “But (safety) is something we think about and are very concerned about.”
KHS brought Mele, who was a little more than a year old, to the farm roughly one year ago as part of an effort to find a social companion for the farm’s aging nightingale, Charlie, now 31 years of age.
“It was a two-year-long campaign that we wanted to do for Charlie,” Aoki explained. “He’s getting up in years and donkeys are pack animals, so the campaign to get Charlie a companion was a really special one for the community.”
Staff involved the public in the naming process, allowing both island residents and visitors to vote on potential names for the young donkey. The name “Mele” won out.
Mele was already a part of the visitor experience and general programming at the farm. The intention was to transition her into Charlie’s role as the primary demonstrator of how Nightingales were used to farm coffee in years past.
Aoki said the hope is to find another path forward in the future, perhaps with another young donkey, but that the staff is currently focused on what she described as “a huge loss.”
“Our primary concern in the aftermath of this horrible incident is the health of Charlie and our animals, and the well-being and direct communication we offer our staff, patrons and supporters who were all so invested in this sweet little girl and the endearing story that unfolded between Charlie and her,” said KHS Executive Director Joy Holland.
“We are just utterly devastated right now and can’t yet think of what comes next.”