New Invasive Species Threatening–Deer Found on Big Island

By AUDREY McAVOY
Honolulu (AP) — Deer can swim, but not very far. When they showed up for the first time on the Big Island of Hawaii, mystified residents wondered how they got there. The island is some 30 miles southeast of Maui, where deer are plentiful.

Hawaii wildlife authorities think someone dropped a fewfrom a helicopter on the northern tip of the island. And tracks along the southern coast indicate deer were pushed into theocean from a boat and forced to paddle ashore.

Whether they arrived by air or sea, wildlife managers wantto eradicate them to avoid a repeat of the destruction seen onother islands where they ate through vineyards, avocado farmsand forests where endangered species live.

Officials estimate that there are 100 deer on the northernand southern ends of the Big Island. A government-funded groupis leading efforts to get rid of them before they breed.

“They didn’t get here by themselves, so the people who brought them over did so and have done it many times,” said JanSchipper, the group’s project manager.

People have reported seeing deer on the Big Island for awhile, but it wasn’t until a motion-sensor camera captured aphoto of one last year that their presence was confirmed.

Axis deer, called chital in their native India, are similarin size to whitetail deer found in the continental U.S. Tigersand leopards keep axis deer numbers reasonable in India, butthe deer population is growing 20 percent to 30 percent peryear in Hawaii because there aren’t any natural predators –except for humans.

The deer first came to Hawaii in the 1860s as a gift fromHong Kong to the monarch who ruled at the time, King KamehamehaV. They were first taken to Molokai Island.

In the 1950s, some deer were taken to Maui as part ofpost-World War II efforts to introduce mammals to different
places and increase hunting opportunities for veterans, saidSteven Hess, wildlife biologist with the U.S. Geological
Survey. Biologists believed they could improve the environmentby introducing species that didn’t naturally exist, he said.

The experiment has had devastating, unforeseen consequencesin Hawaii, where plants and animals evolved in isolation overmillions of years and lack natural defenses against introducedspecies.

In Maui, deer have caused $1 million in damage during thepast two years for farmers, ranchers and resorts, according toa county survey. They spent half that amount during the sametime trying to eradicate the animals. On Lanai, deer that eateverything from Hawaii’s native ebony tree, the lama, to anative olive tree and a now-extinct mint helped turn a richnative forest into a desert-like landscape so desolate peoplecompare it to the moon.X
Philip Grad
Philip Grad

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