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Mule team assists with hiker rescue at Volcanoes National Park

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Four-legged search-and-rescue workers last week helped transport a pair of hikers suffering from dehydration and ankle injuries out of a remote coastal campsite area in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. 

A team of mules and a horse brought a Hilo couple, who had been hiking along the 8-mile Keauhou Trail, to safety on Thursday, after the pair contacted park officials for assistance. 

Park spokesperson Jessica Ferracane said the couple had been unprepared for the day’s intense heat, lack of shade and rough terrain. “It’s super hot in these coastal areas areas during the summer,” Ferracane said. “It’s a pretty grueling hike,” Ferracane said of the trail. 

A park mule named Dozer and horse called Ohi’a carried the couple to safety while mules Sparkles and Clyde hauled the hikers’ backpacks. 

The animals also took part in a mid-July rescue on the trail. In that incident, an Oahu man in his 60s had become separated from his group and became dehydrated and fatigued, officials said. 

Depending on their size and the terrain, a mule can carry a rider that is up to 265 pounds and can pack up to about 15 percent of their body weight, park officials said. 

The mules are also used for maintenance-related duties, such as hauling wood to replace the boardwalk at Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs at the Hawaii island park. 

The mules are part of a stock program that dates back toward the establishment of the park in 1916. “Mules and horses have been used in this landscape before the park was even established nearly 100 years ago,” Ferracane said. 

Park officials said hikers should bring four quarts per person per day. Park ranger Jack Corrao said, “It’s extremely important to be prepared when going into the back-country, or on any hike.” 

A detailed check list and safety tips are available at the park website at http://www.nps.gov/havo/planyourvisit/upload/Hiking-Tips.pdf. 

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