Communications down, info scarce, but rescuers are on the job
WAILUKU, Maui, Hawaii––With 53 human dead and counting, 1,700 homes burned, 3,000 acres razed, cell phone and internet service down all over the island, and more than 13,000 people homeless, animal news from the Maui fire disaster area as of the evening of August 10, 2023 is for the moment scarce, but what news is getting out indicates that rescuers are on the job, doing the best they can with limited supplies and transportation.
Bryan Kortis & Suzi Richmond safe on South Maui
“Suzi Richmond (my wife) and I are safe,” emailed Neighborhood Cats national programs director Bryan Kortis to ANIMALS 24-7.
“We’re located in South Maui which was threatened by one of the larger wildfires, but escaped any damage,” Kortis explained. “The real devastation has been in West Maui, where the town of Lahaina was located. I say ‘was’ because it’s mostly a pile of ashes now.
“We trapped, neutered, and released a lot of cats in that area,” Kortis said, “and fear many have perished. That part of the island is accessible primarily by a two-lane road. Access into the area has been closed to non-emergency personnel. There is also no power and no communication (cell or landline), so very little info is available on how people and animals still up there are doing, but they must be struggling.
“We anticipate a high level of need”
“We’re seeing Facebook posts of people whose homes or businesses, sometimes both, were destroyed in a matter of hours,” Kortis said, “and now they’re desperately looking for shelter for themselves and their pets. The Maui Humane Society is bearing most of the burden of displaced people surrendering their animals, so they’re pushing hard for fosters and donations.
“We anticipate a high level of need for free-roaming cats and their caretakers from the West Maui area,” Kortis finished, so have set up a Maui Wildfire Relief Fund donation web site. Anyone involved with outdoor cats who needs help can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Maui Humane Society was overcrowded before fire disaster
The Maui Humane Society, in Pu‘unēnē, appeared to be the largest animal rescue organization operating through the wildfire disaster, but was already having a disaster of a different sort when the fires broke out.
Summarized People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals animal care and control specialist Teresa Chagrin, “MauiNews.com reported that a facility with ‘no-kill’ policies, partially funded with public monies and doing business as Maui Humane Society, had ‘more than 130 dogs’ crowded into 40 kennels. There was reportedly a waiting list to surrender animals for whom residents were unable or unwilling to care.”
Photographs indicated that most and perhaps all of the dogs were pit bulls, commonly used in Hawaii for hunting feral pigs.
Said Maui News, “For the first time in years, the Maui Humane Society said that it has a list of at-risk animals for euthanasia due to extreme overcrowding.”
“Expecting inundation of hundreds of animals”
“Maui Humane Society is expecting an inundation of hundreds of animals who have been burned, lost during the evacuation process, and those in need of critical care due to smoke inhalation,” the organization posted to Facebook on August 9, 2023.
“Maui Humane Society is asking for help as the island grapples with the unprecedented and catastrophic impact of the ongoing Maui fires,” described as the worst natural disaster to hit Hawaii since a 1961 tsunami that killed 61 people.
“The fires have left thousands of both humans and animals displaced , causing immense distress and creating an urgent need for solidarity within the community,” the Maui Humane Society continued.
“Funds will allow us to perform lifesaving medical procedures and purchase supplies for families that have lost everything, so they can keep their animals with them.”
“A lot of these fires are still burning”
Reported Newsweek, “Katie Shannon, spokesperson for the Maui Humane Society, told Newsweek via phone that they are asking locals to help them get animals out of shelters and into homes temporarily, described as ‘SOS’ foster care, to make space for animals displaced, strayed and requiring medical attention because the shelter is at full capacity.”
Said Shannon, “The tricky thing right now is that a lot of these fires are still burning. We don’t have a full assessment as to how bad it is because it’s still happening.”
“Lahaina has been leveled”
Posted Catopia Hawaii to Facebook, from Honolulu, on Oahu Island, 100 miles north, “Maui is on fire. Lahaina has been leveled. Kihei is burning. Vet clinics have burned down. There are burned cats and displaced animals who desperately need help.
“Instead of putting up a fundraiser on our own,” Catopia Hawaii said, “we ask that you [donate to] the orgs we know for a fact are boots-on-the-ground and providing shelter. You can donate financially or supply wise.
“Maui Humane is trying to focus on the burned animals. The Hawaii Animal Rescue Fund,” in Wailuku, the Maui county seat, “is focusing on the less critical displaced,” Catopia Hawaii advised.
Flying animals to Oahu for a buck
“Southwest Airlines is flying animals over to Oahu for $1.00,” Catopia Hawaii mentioned, adding to Oahu residents, “If you can open your home temporarily to a displaced animal then please let the Hawaii Animal Rescue Fund or Maui Humane Society know.
“Unfortunately,” Catopia Hawaii recounted, “the fire was so fast that many families had to leave their animals behind or couldn’t get them out. Lahaina was hit hard and the cats there will be critical. Please donate to Save Maui Cats to help them specifically because they work with the Lahaina colonies.
“We have multiple group members who live on Maui and are heavily involved in rescue,” Catopia Hawaii added. “They are not responsive currently, so please pray they are okay and made it out safely with their family and animals.”
Hawaii Animal Rescue Foundation
Among those out of communication, at least for a time, appeared to be both the Hawaii Animal Rescue Foundation and Save Maui Cats.
The Hawaii Animal Rescue Foundation, however, posted to Facebook moments before ANIMALS 24-7 posted our coverage that, “The road into Lahaina is still closed. We are anxiously waiting for clearance from the mayor’s office and chief of police to enter the disaster zone as first responders bringing much-needed medical assistance, supplies, and relief to animals and pet owners in need.
The Hawaii Animal Rescue Foundation had posted to Facebook just before the peak of the fire disaster that “HARF’s Animal Center is open for displaced owned pets in need, effective immediately. Temporary housing is available for dogs, cats, and other small critters. Please bring your own crate and food/medication for your pet if possible. For those without, we will provide whatever is needed.”
“Reached out to other animal groups”
Reported Newsweek earlier on August 9, 2023, “Dawn Pfendler, chief executive officer of the Hawaii Animal Rescue Foundation, [said via telephone] that the organization had not experienced drastic effects from the wildfires, but had reached out to other animal groups requiring assistance—notably on the west side of Maui.
“Pfendler said they had made contact with two animal farms—one in Lahaina and another in Launiupoko—to provide trailering options to remove animals.”
Save Maui Cats, a volunteer group headquartered in Lahaina, had at this writing apparently been out of communication with the outside world for approximately 72 hours, but founder and president Mike Willinsky was reported to be alive and well late on August 11, 2023.
Fires missed Leilani Farm Sanctuary
Animal Rights Hawaii president Cathy Goegel told ANIMALS 24-7 from Honolulu that she had been able to make contact with Leilani Farm Sanctuary director Laurelee Blanchard, in Haiku, northern Maui.
“Laurelee said that the fires are not near her,” Goegel relayed, “and Haiku has gotten a lot of rain recently,” unlike most of the rest of Maui, which had experienced recent drought, enabling flames driven by 85-mile-per-hour wind gusts from Hurricane Dora, passing east of Hawaii, to move exceptionally rapidly, throwing sparks unusually far.
“I’m starting to raise funds for animal burn victims, ” posted Kitty Charm Farm founder Sarah Haynes to Facebook. Also in Haiku, Haynes mentioned that, “Mike Will in Lahaina with Save Maui Cats was my first thought when I started this fundraiser. He definitely won’t be handling medical, and he won’t be able to get down here where the veterinarians are. We will be bringing them down here,” Haynes hoped, “where we have electricity, and access to funds.”
Earlier, Haynes said, “We’ve been evacuating a farm up on Kula, and also visiting shelters with pet food and assistance.”
“Had to let my horses run free”
What information channels from Maui were open were filled with pleas from displaced Maui residents looking for lost animals, including two big pit bulls last seen roaming at large on Prison Street in Lahaina.
“Had to let my horses run free in the upper Loniapoko area,” said farrier and specialty chicken breeder Nicole Rockett. “Would just like to know they are okay. Any help would be appreciated.”
Rockett reported on August 11, 2023 that her horses had been caught and were okay.
Maui Bird Rescue, which runs the Maui Nui Seabird Recovery Project from Haliimaile in north Maui, issued a similar appeal for any information about two missing male melanistic pheasants.
“The wind ripped apart their coop,” Maui Bird Rescue explained. “Both have the bright red face skin and purple/green sheen” characteristic of the species. “One’s tail is a bit lighter in color and barred.”
The pheasants were last seen going in different directions.
Haleakala National Park closed
Information about Maui wildlife in the fire areas was even harder to come by than updates about domestic animals.
“The devastating wildfires that have run across Maui continue to keep Haleakala National Park closed,” posted the park staff.
The 33,265-acre park is home to more endangered species, mostly plants, than any other part of the U.S. National Park system.
The animal life includes the endangered Pueo short-eared owl; the likewise endangered nene goose, the Hawaiian state bird since 1957 (two years before Hawaii was actually admitted to U.S. statehood); and hoary bats, the most widespread U.S. bat species, ranging from southeastern Canada to Bermuda and Iceland.
Mongooses, Axis deer, & chameleons
While the National Park Service attempts to purge feral species, Maui is also home to Indian mongooses, introduced to hunt rats in 1883; as many as 50,000 Axis deer, introduced by order of the Hawaiian legislature in 1959 to encourage hunting; and Jackson chameleons, introduced to Hawaii from Kenya and Tanzania as escaped exotic pets or with imported plants in 1971.
Feral cats, goats, and chickens also thrive in Maui.
All have been subjects of extirpation efforts.
Deer brought a disaster declaration
A bill introduced into the Hawaii state house of representatives in February 2022, HB1987, called for poisoning all feral cats on Maui by the end of 2025, using the “Curiosity” and “Eradicat” baits developed in Australia.
Former Hawaii governor David Ige, meanwhile, apparently not knowing what a real disaster looks like, in 2021 issued an emergency disaster declaration for Maui County, the purpose of which was to empower state agencies to “take immediate measures to reduce and control the axis deer populations and to remove and dispose of the carcasses quickly.”
In the short term, the wildfires may harm both the Maui native and non-native wildlife. Within the next year, though, most of both the native and non-native species are likely to benefit, since most prefer second growth and edge habitat.
Wildfires also hit parts of the Big Island, but to much less devastating effect.
“Here on the Big Island we’re fine”
Posted Abaykitties, from Waikoloa, “Thank you everyone for your messages and thoughts and prayers. Here on the Big Island we’re fine. The brush fires are not impacting any of our kitties or our homes. There is still one section of road in North Kohala closed while firefighters work on containment and hot spots of the brush fire there.
“The fire that was near Mauna Kea resort is out. They did lose their maintenance building and mowing equipment. We continue to have high winds, hopefully no more fires pop up. Many thanks to our first responders for keeping us safe.
“Maui sadly is another story,” Abaykitties observed. “So much devastation and loss of life. It’s heartbreaking. We’re keeping all of our Maui neighbors in our thoughts and prayers.”
Please donate to support our work: