Hawaii is waging war against invasive axis deer which are damaging the native ecosystem

Hawaii is waging war against invasive axis deer which are damaging the native ecosystem

Along with tens of thousands of feral chickens and boars, Hawaii is now waging war against another invasive species: axis deer.

Honolulu Civil Beat reported that there are almost 50,000 of these deer roaming between Ulupalakua and Paia on Maui, according to a recent study from KIA Hawaii, a local ungulate management company. An existential threat to Maui’s ranches, they’re destroying watersheds, devouring farmers’ crops and gnawing plants that help store water, exacerbating the “severe” drought that’s already drying up springs and creating poor conditions for cattle pastures.

“Streams that are normally gushing with water are barely flowing,” the Commission on Water Resource Management’s deputy director, Kaleo Manuel, said in a press release earlier in March. “This is deepening our already grave concerns about the effects of seasonal drought on water supplies.”

Now, Civil Beat reports that environmentalists, local hunters and the community at large all agree that the deer population needs to be managed.

Originally from India, axis deer were gifted to King Kamehameha V in 1867 and released on Molokai. Nine axis deer, three males and six females, were then introduced to Maui in 1959. According to Civil Beat, Maui County formed its first axis deer task force in 1996 to tackle the issue, as well as a new one in 2021 with members from state and county agencies and landowners.

However, axis deer aren’t the only invasive species damaging Hawaii’s native ecosystem.

Pacific Conservation Biology said that “free-roaming Pigs, Goats, Cattle, Sheep … and deer Axis axis … are described in state reports and plans as high-threat invasive species, while simultaneously being protected under the law as game mammals.”

Honolulu Civil Beat reported that the deer population increases by 20% to 30% each year, and about 30% needs to be culled just to stabilize it. According to experts, this intervention is necessary because there are no natural predators, such as tigers, crocodiles or bobcats, to help balance out the deer population.

“Hunting is the only kind of mortality that’s imposed on the population and if that’s a selective removal of males, then that’s after they’ve already bred,” wildlife biologist Steven Hess told the Honolulu Civil Beat.

The outlet reported that Jake Muise, who runs KIA Hawaii, has a 16-strong “harvesting team” that shoots, butchers and sells 3,000 to 4,000 deer annually on Maui — killing about 20,000 animals so far. Muise’s team does most culling for Haleakala and Ulupalakua ranches, which also employ help from their own staff, friends and family. Per Civil Beat, Muise estimates that there would be 58,000 more deer on Maui otherwise.

But you don’t have to be part of Muise’s harvesting team to help cull the island’s exploding deer population. Starting May 14, Hawaii residents and non-residents can apply to hunt in Lanai for axis deer and another invasive species, the European mouflon sheep.

This article by Ariana Bindman was first published by SFGate.com on 7 April 2022. Lead Image: A photo of one of the deer in question. Trikansh Sharma/500px/Getty Images.

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