The axis deer population in Maui has been a controversial issue that Hawaiians have long debated. Though they are beautiful creatures, the animals have overrun the community causing a myriad of issues.
Hunters and fishermen in the area are no strangers to helping control the population. However, environmentalists have other ideas about how the regulation of the deer population should work. And this is where things get tricky.
Since they arrived in Hawaii in the late 1800s, axis deer, which are native to South Asia, have overrun communities. When this happens, entire ecosystems of Maui shift. The deer are responsible for destroying farmers’ crops. They also eat away at cattle forage and destroy watersheds.
What hunters do when they help control the population also helps to solve a $1 million dollar burden annually on Maui’s larger food system. Not to mention that the deer provide valuable meat to families year round.
A study conducted by KIA Hawaii, found that in the 147,483 acres between Ulupalakua and Paia, there were 46,743 deer, per Civil Beat. This means that the deer population is growing and the environment continues to diminish.
A task force developed in the region in 1996 to help with the axis deer population issue. However, there’s two sides to how residents feel about allowing broader hunting times. Further, as more deer multiply, the watersheds have negative effects, creating a larger issue on the droughts Maui’s experienced the last several years.
“Streams that are normally gushing with water are barely flowing,” Deputy Director Kaleo Manuel said in a release earlier this month. “This is deepening our already grave concerns about the effects of seasonal drought on water supplies.”
How Axis Deer Are Ruining Ecosystems in Hawaii
This being a problem, the water supply also affects plant growth. As the circle goes round, the deer continue to multiply while the ecosystems get weaker.
Additionally, cattle farming is also on the fritz. Less forage means less cattle.
“The grazing program is shot,” Haleakala General Manager Greg Friel said. “The deer come and go as they please because the standard fences don’t keep them out.”
And aside from hunters, axis deer also have no natural predators in Hawaii. In their native home of South Asia, the deer have crocodiles, tigers and other predators that help regulate them.
“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 said.
Until environmentalists get on board with the idea that these animals need some form of regulation, the ecosystems, farming communities and watersheds of Hawaii will continue to face danger.