In Molokai, a central island in the Hawaiian Islands chain, axis deer are facing a dieoff. The axis deer were first brought to Molokai in 1868. They were brought to the island as a gift to the King of Hawaii from Hong Kong. Since then generations of residents have hunted the deer for food.

However, in recent years the number of hunters on Molokai has fallen. With zero natural predators on the island, the axis population has exploded. The island has a surface area of only 260 square miles. Hawaii officials estimate that there are between 50,000 and 70,000 axis deer crammed on the island. Then starting in 2019, the island has been facing a historically bad drought. The drought combined with such a large population of deer has created serve crop damage and erosion on the island. On top of that, the drought has also stunted or killed much of the deer’s natural food sources as well.

“During the last wet season, which in Hawaii runs from October through April, it never pulled out of drought. It’s been pretty bad, especially for pasture conditions and just the general vegetation. … It’s had an impact on the wildlife.” – U.S. National Weather Service Hydrologist Kevin Kodama.

As stated above, the dry conditions and overpopulation of deer have created severe runoff into the surrounding ocean. The sediment, once it enters the ocean, settles on the surrounding coral and creates issues for the marine wildlife in the area. If too much sediment covers the coral it can actually kill the coral.

“When ungulates overpopulate an area, that erosion impacts not just the reef, but people’s lifestyle and the subsistence lifestyle that’s there.” – Russell Kallstrom, Information Coordinator for the Nature Conservancy’s Molokai Program

Deer Population Control

On Molokai, in 2019, fewer than 400 residents received a deer hunting permit. However, statewide 10,600 deer hunting permits were issued. Around 1,500 permits were issued to nonresidents for statewide deer hunting. However, in 2020, due to the pandemic, very few nonresident hunters came to the island. Because of the overpopulation of deer in Hawaii, there are no daily bag limits set and the hunting season is currently set for year-round hunting.

“They started moving into the farm area and are just raising hell. If healthy deer are killed, slaughterhouses could process the meat into hamburger for food banks and others in need. Even composting the carcasses of unhealthy animals has been considered. So we can use it to bring the land back.” –  Glenn Teves, Molokai native and the University of Hawaii’s county extension agent for the island.

There are a few options being considered to manage the overpopulation issue. The state is considering increasing hunting permits and options. They are also considering aerial culling and hiring professional shooters. The state has also discussed funding and building protection fences in several areas. These efforts would be to reduce the population not eradicate it. The deer on the island are considered a cherished food source for many of the residents.

What are your thoughts on Hawaii’s overpopulation of axis deer? Do you plan on trying to hunt in Hawaii? Let us know in the comments!


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