First Axis Deer Shot as Eradication Effort Begins
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources said today a program is underway to use sharpshooters to eliminate the growing population of axis deer on the Big Island.
The program’s first killing of a deer occurred on the island Wednesday, DLNR spokeswoman Deborah Ward said in a statement.
The location where the deer was shot – and the locations of recent deer sightings – are not being disclosed because of privacy concerns for private landowners who are cooperating with the eradication program, said Jan Schipper, manager of the Big Island Invasive Species Committee.
“We are mindful that trespassing and poaching are a major concern for some landowners,” Schipper said in the statement.
“We have a very strict protocol in place to ensure that we not only remove the problem deer with the landowner’s blessing, but also verify that the deer do not have any diseases,” he said. “Since we do not know who brought the deer, where they came from or how they got here – we cannot be sure of the risks these animals present, so we are taking every precaution.”
The BIISC is staffing the control effort with the assistance of the DLNR and conservation organizations and agriculture associations.
“We are fortunate to have two highly skilled marksmen working on this project, who were trained by hunters on Moloka‘i, to ensure that animals are treated as humanely as possible,” Schipper said.
Ward said the first confirmed sighting of axis deer on the Big Island came through a photo taken in Ka‘u just under a year ago, and the number of reports of deer sightings has continued to grow.
The DLNR has spent the past year confirming the reports and mapping their distribution. The program is designed to prevent the type of damage to farms, ranches, forests and watersheds that the axis deer has caused on Maui. The animals are also found on Molokai and Lanai.
“We only need to look at Maui to see the devastating impacts axis deer can have on local people, especially ranchers and farmers,” DLNR Chairman William Aila said in the statement. “We are hopeful, with the community’s cooperation, that we can get all the deer off the Big Island before it’s too late.”
Ward said anyone wishing to report a suspected sighting of axis deer on the Big Island can call 936-2409.
Not all Big Island residents support the eradication efforts. In public forums, some hunters and their organizations have said that the deer could supplement the hunting of pigs, sheep and birds to provide sustenance for Big Island families as well as sport hunting opportunities for tourists.
State officials believe the axis deer were smuggled to the Big Island by private individuals.
Also known as chital, axis deer are native to India and other areas of Asia and can weigh close to 200 pounds when fully grown. They have a life span of up to 14 years.
According to Ward, there were attempts to bring axis deer to the Big Island for game hunting in the 1950s and ‘60s, but those efforts were halted by protests from the farming and ranching communities.
Ward said Big Island conservation groups already worried about the impacts of sheep and pigs are concerned about the impact another ungulate will have on native ecosystems already under threat – in this case one that can leap over fences ten feet high.
The state already carries out periodic aerial shootings of goats, feral sheep and mouflon-feral hybrids on Mauna Kea. The court-ordered eradication effort is aimed at preventing the ungulates from eating mamane trees, which provide critical habitat for the endangered palila bird.