Axis deer, a species native to India that were introduced as a gift from Hong Kong to the king of Hawaii in 1868, have fed hunters and their families on the rural island of Molokai for generations

HONOLULU — Axis deer, a species indigenous to India presented as a gift from Hong Kong into the king of Hawaii in 1868, have fed hunters and their families on the northwestern island of Molokai for centuries. But for the community of about 7,500, where self-sustainability is a means of life, the invasive deer are both a precious food source and a danger to their island ecosystem.

Now, drought on Molokai has brought the issue into consideration. Countless deer have died from starvation, extending narrow the island’s limited resources.

The drought is among the island’s worst in recent memory and has been going on for almost two decades.

“Throughout the past rainy season, which in Hawaii runs from October through April, it never pulled from drought,” explained U.S. National Weather Service hydrologist Kevin Kodama. “It’s been pretty bad, especially for pasture conditions and only the general vegetation. … It’s had an effect on the wildlife.”

Residents have a hard time controlling the people by searching alone. Along with the creatures , in desperate search for meals and water, are destroying crops and forest watershed men and women rely on for food and drinking water.

When the bull devour fruits, vegetables and other plants, it contributes to erosion and runoff to the ocean that alters the island’s coral reef — another important food source.

“Molokai has the longest continuous fringing reef at the USA, and it’s among our community’s best resources,” said Russell Kallstrom, data coordinator for the Nature Conservancy’s Molokai program. “When ungulates overpopulate an area, that erosion affects not just the reef, but people’s lifestyle and the subsistence lifestyle that is there.”

The reefs around Molokai are getting more runoff and sedimentation than anticipated and at least part of it is caused by erosion in the bull, said Greg Asner, a Hawaii-based marine ecologist.

The deer problem has persisted for years but is getting worse, according to Glenn Teves, a Molokai native and the University of Hawaii’s county extension agent for the island.

“It is a perfect storm,” he said. “What farmers did was that they began fencing off their regions, but not all farmers could afford the fencing. That means you may be protecting yourself, however, you are just pushing the deer to another farmer’s place.”

Alternatives for controlling the people contain more hunting, aerial sniping and fencing which protects specific locations. Sterilizing deer is difficult and expensive, and nobody wishes to poison or eradicate them.

If healthy deer have been killed, slaughter houses could process the meat to hamburger for food banks and many others in need, Teves said. Even composting the carcasses of sterile creatures has been considered, he explained,”so we can use it to bring the land back.”

Hawaii Gov. David Ige lately issued an emergency disaster declaration for Maui County, which comprises Molokai, so the state could”take immediate measures to reduce and control the axis deer populations and to remove and dispose of the carcasses quickly.”

Maui County’s mayor, Mayor Michael Victorinosaid the disaster proclamation can also help unlock state and federal financing to mitigate some financial losses.” Our agricultural industry has continued substantial pasture and crop damage from axis deer in search of food,” he explained.

Maui county recently set aside $1 million to deal with the problem, dividing it among Molokai and two other islands — Maui and Lanai — at which axis deer had been introduced in the 1950s and now are harmful farms, ranches and forests.

State lawmakers are trying pass a measure for financing to help manage the deer.

“They trample sea plants burrows, and their grazing and trampling causes land erosion, causing siltation of reefs that support fish people eat too, and finally, watersheds and fresh water generation,” said Jeff Bagshaw, an outreach specialist for the state’s Division of Forestry and Wildlife in Maui County.

Hunting can help control the deer, but Bagshaw says hunters have a tendency to shoot bucks, which increases”harem-size” and does not do much to decrease the general population.

In 2019, fewer than 400 inhabitants on Molokai were issued hunting licenses, he explained. Statewide the number was roughly 10,600. Nearly 1,500 permits were issued to non-residents, many who come to Hawaii specifically to search, but coronavirus restrictions in 2020 meant far fewer people came to the nation for leisure.

Because of the overpopulation, there is not any daily bag limit on deer nor a designated hunting period.

Quite a few other non-native species have become established in the oceans, such as goats and pigs. As stated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the hoofed animals are among the biggest contributors to ecosystem degradation and extinction in Hawaii, where plants and animals that evolved in isolation over countless years absence natural defenses from introduced species.

Along with causing to ecological damage, the hungry deer population is now a public nuisance. Dead ones are rotting across the island, such as along shorelines where people fish, surf and swim.

Private landowners are responsible for disposing of dead deer on their property, while state and county agencies need to clean up dead deer on public lands.

And people who regularly drive on Molokai state the generally skittish deer have become more brazen while seeking food and water and also pose a serious roadway hazard.

“Just driving down the highway, herds will suddenly opt to cross, and so a great deal of people have had their vehicles totaled because of impacts with deer,” said the Nature Conservancy’s Kallstrom.