story by Michael Shapiro
photos by Sergio Goes
Keaolani, above Kailua-Kona, is a land of multi-acre plots and million-dollar homes, a realm of effortful lawns and winding driveways. A place where if you plant flowers of the wrong color, you could get a letter of complaint from your neighbor’s lawyer (true story). So as you drive by the property with its mailbox resembling a zebra, you might be surprised to see a woman in surgical scrubs piloting a tractor into her garage. That woman, so small she’s almost swallowed by the machine, is Dr. Ann Goody, curator of Three Ring Ranch. Rather than sink their savings into a McMansion and live the Kona dream, Ann and her husband Norm turned their 5-acre lot into what is today Hawai‘i’s sole federally accredited nonprofit exotic animal sanctuary, one of only thirty-eight in the country.
Ann and Norm started out in 1998 with five animals; today the ranch is home to more than eighty. Its residents are an eclectic menagerie of exotic creatures (that is, exotic to Hawai‘i) who were abandoned or abused by their owners, seized in raids or rescued from failed zoos: zebras, oryx, parrots, llamas, chinchillas, guinea pigs, lessor flamingoes, tortoises, barn owls, a rare and ostentatious South African crowned crane. There are also a few natives who suffered injuries so severe that they can never live in the wild again: a pair of ‘io, endangered Hawaiian hawks, and several nene, Hawaiian geese. In fact, all the residents will live out their natural lives here. “This is their home,” says Ann, whose fiery devotion to the animals is the driving force sustaining the ranch. “We just work here.” She’s not being glib; the ranch is legally entrusted to the
animals, some of whom—like Pele, the self-mutilating eclectus parrot who warbles “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” or Goliath, the 260-pound tortoise whose owner had deliberately overfed him to induce gigantism—will probably outlive their human caretakers.
Ann can tell you every animal’s story of suffering and salvation, but none may be more poignant, fortuitous and magical than her own. She had been living in Big Bear, California, pursuing a nursing career and volunteering for the Bureau of Land Management and the US Fish & Wildlife Service to rehabilitate injured wild
animals. Then, in 1994, lightning struck: She won a trip to Hawai‘i by peeling a contest label off a McDonald’s soda cup. She loved the Islands so much that five months after she returned to California, she entered an essay contest sponsored by a local magazine. The topic: “Why I deserve a vacation.” The prize: a trip to Hawai‘i. She won. She returned, and this time, she stayed. Though she had loved working with animals, she intended to pursue nursing; she had no intention of starting a sanctuary. But the universe, it seems, cares little for our intentions.
Enter Dr. Norm Goody, then an anesthesiologist at Kona Community Hospital. Norm, whose subdued demeanor belies a quiet intensity, was struck by his own form of lightning: Ann. After a whirlwind courtship lasting almost a full week, Ann agreed to marry him. “He was a catch, you know,” she says. “Nice doctor, never been married.” Then, the day after their wedding, lightning struck again. This time, literally.
Ann Goody should have been killed. “The lightning struck my head, burned into my chest,” she says. “Smoke came out of my nose and mouth, my eyelashes were burned off.” She suffered brain damage so severe that she had to re-learn walking and talking. Tenacious and optimistic, Ann fought her way back and within a year returned to her job administrating a large health care organization in Kona while simultaneously working to complete her doctorate.
During her convalescence, Norm and Ann went snorkelling off Miloli‘i, where nature gave Ann the second of what she calls her “idiot slaps”: She was attacked by a tiger shark. It nailed her hard enough to launch her clear out of the water, but she was again impossibly lucky; it hadn’t bitten her. Beachgoers who witnessed the attack were amazed she was alive, much less unharmed.
Even without a gratuitous shark attack, Ann’s recovery from the lightning strike was as difficult as it was astonishing, and she had her tough days. On one of them, in 1998, Norm asked, “What can I do to help?” She replied, as a joke, “Oh, I’d love a zebra.”
But Norm, to his credit, can’t take a joke. As fate would have it, he’d just read (in the pages of Hana Hou!) about the Moloka‘i Ranch Safari Park, a zoo that kept zebras. He called to see whether he could arrange to buy a foal. As fate would again have it, the park had recently closed, and its owners were trying to place the animals, including their zebras. The lucky ones found homes in other zoos; others were not so lucky. “A couple of friendly, tame eland became the barbecue at the Moloka‘i High School graduation,” says Ann. “Lucky and Wahine were their names.” A barge full of animals—antelope, barbary sheep, eland—was shipped to Ni‘ihau for private canned hunts. But the seas near shore were too rough to land, “so they shoved the animals off the barge and let them swim for it,” says Ann. “A lot didn’t make it.” In all, some 400 animals from the Moloka‘i Ranch Safari Park didn’t survive its closure.
Because Ann was licensed to care for wild animals, Moloka‘i Ranch enthusiastically invited her to come over and take her pick. “I chose animals I thought no one would want,” she says. One of them was Oreo, a “very pregnant” zebra. The day after they corralled her into a pen at the Safari Park, Oreo went into labor. Fate struck again: She gave birth to Zoe, a blond filly. “Not an albino,” says Ann. “Zoe has blue eyes and gold stripes. She’s a blond.” Blond zebras are impossibly rare; they occur only once in about three million births. They don’t survive in the wild because they’re targeted by predators. Only two are known to have been kept in captivity: one in a German zoo in the early 1900s and another in Tokyo in the 1970s. Zoe, who today happily grazes the pasture at Three Ring Ranch, is the only living blond zebra known to exist in the world. Oreo, Ann’s first animal, a zebra nobody wanted, had birthed a filly worth seven figures, a literal million-dollar baby.