HONOLULU - Hawaiian wildlife officials say they have identified about 100 non-native Axis deer on the northern and southern ends of the Big Island.
Authorities believe the mysterious appearance is actually the result of someone lowering some of the deer onto the northern tip of the island by helicopter. On the southern coast, tracks indicate that deer were pushed into the ocean and forced to swim to shore.
Axis deer are similar in size to the whitetail deer found in the United States, but they originate in India, where they are called “chital.” Lacking India’s tigers and leopards to keep their numbers at a manageable level, the government is funding an effort to eradicate the deer from the island of Hawaii before they breed, according to the Associated Press.
The first Axis deer are reported to have arrived in Hawaii in the 1860’s as a gift from Hong Kong to King Kamehameha V and were taken to Molokai Island. However, in the 1950’s a few deer were brought to Maui as part of an effort to introduce mammals to different places and increase hunting opportunities for WW-II veterans.
“Biologists believed they could improve the environment by introducing species that didn’t naturally exist, states Steven Hess, wildlife biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. However, the deer have multiplied at a rate of 20 to 30 percent a year and have caused over $1 million in damage to farmlands, ranches and resorts in just the past two years, according to a county survey. Additionally, wildlife managers have spent about $500,000 trying to eradicate the animals.
On Lanai, the deer have destroyed native forests, including Hawaii’s ebony tree--the lama, a native olive tree, and now-extinct mint. The Hawaiian garden areas have been denuded into desert-like landscapes so desolate that people compare them to the moon, reports Audrey McAvoy of the AP.
Now that the Axis deer have been positively identified on the Big Island of Hawaii by motion-sensor cameras, officials want to eradicate them to avoid a repeat of this destruction of vineyards, avocado farms and the rich forests that provide habitats for endangered species. But Big Island hunters, who supplement their diet by hunting, want the deer to stay. They welcome the Axis deer as a source of meat and say it was a gift to King Kamehameha for all of Hawaii.
AP reports that Big Island hunter Tony Sylvester believes hunters from other islands brought the deer to retaliate against conservationists and governmental agencies for converting large tracts of hunting ground into forest-restoration land. He says environmental interests and deer can coexist with proper management.
The Pele Defense Fund is the group that won Native Hawaiians access to private land for hunting in the 1990’s and is again rallying hunters together for a class-action lawsuit to stop the state’s efforts to fence off land and eradicate game animals. Prior programs by conservationists have resulted in forests being fenced off and sheep, goats and pigs being killed in order to save endangered native plants and animal species within the area; such as, the mamane tree and the palila songbirds that survive on its seeds.
Palikapu Dedman, President of the Pele Defense Fund states, “I think the hunter has been ignored and it is the state’s responsibility to look out for them, too.”
Los Angeles Daily News/Associated Press (McAvoy, A.) 5/24/12.