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Maui axis deer numbers cut by 2,500, group says

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WAILUKU » At least 2,500 axis deer were killed on Maui last year, according to a group battling the spread of the animals on the island.

The Maui Axis Deer Working Group estimates it killed 1,700 while an additional 875 were killed by the Maui Axis Deer Harvesting Cooperative.

Kanalu Sproat, program director for the working group, told The Maui News the organization is developing a database that will keep track of removed deer.

Axis deer are native to South Asia. The state brought a few deer to Maui in the 1950s to expand hunting opportunities for veterans.

But the deer don’t have any natural predators in Hawaii, and their numbers are growing 20 to 30 percent a year on islands where they’ve been introduced.

On Maui, people have reported axis deer munching on crops, chewing away at pineapple in the fields, eating grapes off of vines and even appearing in hotel lobbies in Wai­lea and running around golf courses.

The county estimates axis deer caused $1 million in damage to Maui farms, ranches and resorts in 2011 and 2012.

The Maui Axis Deer Working Group last year estimated that there are about 7,500 axis deer on the island, primarily in the Upcountry and South Maui areas. The estimate was based on 20 hours of helicopter flight surveys.

The group has requested $43,000 from the county this year to help pay for another flight survey, which is one of the "most accurate and most widespread" methods of calculating overall deer population numbers, Sproat said.

The group will also survey about 2,000 randomly selected residents about acceptable deer management techniques and tolerable population numbers. Information from the survey will help the group finalize its general management plan for the Maui axis deer population.

Shooting deer from a helicopter is the most effective and cost-efficient way to kill them, Sproat said. But critics say it’s wasteful, potentially unsafe and takes away from the sport of hunting.

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