POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jun 6, 2011
State officials say they are developing a plan to remove axis deer in Hawaii County but a wider venue is appropriate. The state should use a humane method of eventually eliminating the invasive species on both the Big Island and Maui, where they are causing considerable damage to the environment.
Native to India, Sri Lanka and Nepal, the deer were first introduced to Molokai and Oahu in 1868, then to Lanai in 1920 and Maui in 1959, to promote wild game hunting. They are believed to have been shipped illegally to Hawaii County, where they threaten to damage the forest in Kohala. They also have been seen in Kau, Kona and Mauna Kea.
Like the mongoose, they have no natural predators in Hawaii and have increased drastically in recent years. The axis deer are estimated to number 12,000 on Maui alone.
Hunting is a visitor attraction on Maui but the deer have caused millions of dollars in damage to upcountry ranches, farmland and urban areas. They trample plants and eat forage, plant leaves, stem, fruits, seeds, flowers and bark. Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa says he has had to deal with a herd of 100 at a time at his farm.
A similar problem existed several years ago with fallow and axis deer at Point Reyes National Seashore in Marin County, Calif., but the National Park Service outraged animal lovers by hiring exterminators to gun the deer down and suffocate them with plastic bags.
Members of California's congressional delegation called for a moratorium on the crude extermination in 2008.
As a result, the National Park Service later that year adopted a policy of using contraceptive darts, fired from a dart rifle, "to ensure the remaining deer herd was safely and humanely controlled" and, importantly, non-reproductive.
The inexpensive method was recommended by the Humane Society of the United States and is said to be used around the globe. There now are no breeding male deer left in the Point Reyes area.
Jan Schipper, manager of the Big Island Invasive Species Committee, said the axis deer are easier to control in small open areas of Lanai and Molokai but that is more difficult in larger spaces like Maui, which "has a lot of areas to hide."
The axis deer has competed on Maui with Haleakala Ranch’s livestock for foliage, says general manager J. Scott Meidell. Tedeschi Vineyards has lost six productive acres this year, costing $150,000 with the loss of six tons of grapes. Paul J. Hegele, the vineyards' president, says it will fence in 23 acres at great cost to keep the deer away.
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources needs to act quickly to keep the Hawaii County deer herd from growing in number, but it also should consider dealing with the deer problem on Maui.
Contraceptive darts have worked at the National Park Service and should be considered to apply to axis deer on the Big Island and Maui.