Roughly one month after Hawai’i became the 50th state of these United States, the island of Maui welcomed a family of five from Moloka’i. During that September of 1959, the relocated family settled about six kilometers east of my current home in Kihei and has remained close to their original home to this day. In July of 1960, four more family members came to Maui and began living on the south side of the island. Nobody back then bothered to think about the long term issues of sustenance or clean water when they allowed transplants from India and Sri Lanka to live off the land. The powers that be were more interested in getting this family situated so they could help promote outdoor activities like hunting on Maui.
Now that this multi-generational family has grown to staggering numbers over the years, people are finding it more difficult to live near them and their destructive nature. They are no longer welcome at local golf courses, because they disturb play and fail to observe proper etiquette on or near the greens. The upscale resorts do not want their kind walking around their carefully manicured gardens without paying for the privilege of being a guest. The farming community has had enough of their stealing of local crops and have taken measures to keep them away from their property, almost all of them resorting to violence. Finally, traffic accidents involving members of this Maui family have cost drivers thousands of dollars in repairs due to their lack of insurance and ability to drive…a dangerous combination. I have witnessed a few accidents involving members of this family and they continue to get back on those roads without the slightest concern for anyone else.
Even with all their faults, people still defend there actions, their destruction of private property, even their complete disregard for our laws. They argue that these foreigners never asked to come to Maui, they were forced here for the amusement of others. It seems to be a legitimate argument, due to the fact that they are just wild deer.
The Axis family of deer, also known as chital, cheetal or spotted deer, have flourished on Maui, as well as many of the other Hawaiian islands due to the lack of predators and the abundance of food. Seeing a need to help control the overpopulation, Maui county allows year round hunting of the deer. Even with this countermeasure the exact number of deer on Maui is unknown. Some reports have them in the 4,000 to 5,000 while others claim it is well over 12,000 deer…and rapidly growing.
Originally eight axis deer (four bucks, four does) were introduced to the island of Moloka’i in January of 1868. Later than same year a few deer were transferred onto O’ahu. Lana’i received twelve of the Moloka’i deer in 1920 and Maui welcomed three bucks and two does in the fall of 1959. As recent as last year, axis deer have been found on the big island of Hawai’i, which will begin to have a negative impact on their environment if they are not contained or controlled.
As much as these spotted deer resemble everyone’s favorite animated talking deer Bambi and appear to fall onto the “cute” animal list, their negative impact on the Hawaiian archipelago continues unchecked. The axis deer can eat food closer to the ground than livestock, so when food is scarce (during droughts or due to fire) they have the advantage. The axis deer tend to strip the bark from the base of trees making the tree more exposed to disease. Most farms or golf courses cannot afford the required eight to ten foot tall fences to keep the deer away from their crops or land. The parasites and diseases carried by these deer range from leptospirosis (from droppings entering a water supply) to E. coli (a form of food poisoning) and can be a serious threat to human health.
One positive aspect of axis deer is that their meat is supposed to be some of the most lean and delicious venison in the world. Bucks can weigh upwards of 150-250 pounds, while the smaller does weight between 100-150 pounds. As soon as someone figures out how to make money off of this one major point, I’m sure venison meat sales will begin to make a difference in the overpopulation in Maui county. Until then, drive carefully at night and if you are visiting Maui and staying on the south side, make sure your rental car insurance has deer vs. car coverage.