Animal rescues continue in lava zones

  • Courtesy photo Paradise Helicopters helped evacuate animals from the eruption zone in lower Puna on June 24.
  • Courtesy photo

    A basket trails a Paradise Helicopters chopper as it takes part in a cow rescue June 24 from the eruption zone in lower Puna.

Efforts to rescue animals stranded in lava zones are still underway in lower Puna.

Donna Whitaker, executive director of the Hawaii Island Humane Society, said Thursday that approximately 285 animals have been rescued by the organization from areas restricted by lava from the ongoing Kilauea volcano eruption, with more being taken out every day.

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“We are going in daily based on sightings and owners’ requests,” she said.

Whitaker said the situation is “ongoing and fluid,” adding that people should have evacuation plans in place that include pets.

“As we have seen, things can change very quickly,” she said.

According to Whitaker, rescuers will continue to go into the restricted zones as long as it’s safe to do so and they have reports of domesticated pets.

They have seen dogs, cats, fowl, sheep, pigs and cattle, but “by far the most numerous are chickens and cats,” she said.

“The biggest obstacles have been the long, hot, hazardous hikes trying to find animals that are trying to hide,” she said. “It’s a difficult job, and our teams have been working tirelessly.”

Calvin Dorn, CEO of Paradise Helicopters, participated in a rescue of four cows and two sheep last weekend. The work is in conjunction with efforts of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and HIHS.

The organizations are doing “outstanding work,” he said. “I’m only the transportation factor.”

The first hurdle they had to overcome was getting authorization to fly in the temporary flight restriction zone, which was “initially quite hard to get.”

When Paradise Helicopters was first contacted about animal rescues, “I said, ‘You put the rescue together; we’ll fly wherever we’re allowed to fly,” Dorn said.

As with other volunteers, Dorn said he wants to give back to the community and “give back to animals that are just unfortunately left there because everything happened pretty quickly. It’s something that needs to be done. I feel proud that Paradise Helicopters have the tools to do this.”

Dorn said he’s herded cattle a few times in the past but has “never captured cows before.”

Like any mechanical device, Dorn said helicopters could face mechanical issues or winds could shift, so helicopter crews have to have proper protective equipment.

However, he said “probably the most dangerous thing is the guy who helps the animals out” once they land in safety, but they’re “all cowboys. They’ve done it a lot, so it’s pretty fun to watch them do their (work).”

According to Whitaker, David Okita of Manu Iwa Helicopters also has helped with a number of rescue missions.

Whitaker said previously that prior to the increased volcanic activity around Kapoho, HIHS had been given access to the lava zones when they received reports of trapped animals, but now must request access into the restricted areas from Hawaii County Civil Defense.

Access can only be requested by the homeowner and rescuers must have permission to be on the homeowner’s property.

Disaster-affected animals will be housed at the Keaau animal shelter for 30 days to allow for reunification with their owners, after which Whitaker said they would be put up for adoption or into the Humane Society’s mainland transfer program.

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To request an animal rescue, contact the HIHS pet rescue hotline at 498-9475.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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