Farmers fret over invader

Axis deer have been introduced on the Big Island, with confirmed sightings from Kohala to Ka'u, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources announced Friday. Survey areas are expanding as government agencies and private landowners work to develop a response and removal plan, DLNR Chairman William Aila said in a statement.

"We consider this a serious problem with far-reaching economic and environmental impacts to the agriculture industry and native ecosystems on the island," Aila said in the statement.

Native to India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, axis deer weigh up to 175 pounds and eat mostly grass, allowing them to cause extensive and costly damage to farmland.

Axis deer were introduced on Oahu and Molokai in 1868 and on Maui and Lanai during the 20th century.

A six-fold population increase during the past decade means Maui is now home to 12,000 axis deer, according to the DLNR.

The owners of Maui's Tedeschi Vineyards plan to fence their 23-acre property to prevent more crop destruction, president Paula Hegele said in the DLNR statement.

"It is really difficult to put a dollar amount on it since our end product is value-added, but we lost about six tons of grapes for production, which would have amounted to wine revenue of approximately $150,000," she said.

According to the DLNR, fences on the Big Island aren't 8 feet tall, the heighth needed to contain axis deer.

"Retrofitting the more than 300 miles of fences could cost tens of millions of dollars," the department said.

Reports of axis deer on Hawaii Island surfaced about five years ago, with the first legitimate sighting some three years ago, said Jan Schipper, program manager for the Big Island Invasive Species Committee, which is helping with efforts to inventory the population.

He suggested the animals were smuggled here by someone wanting another mammal to hunt.

Motion-activated cameras have captured the image of one deer, said Schipper, who declined to identify the Big Island location at the request of the landowner, who fears poaching.

"I absolutely guarantee you there's at least a few," Schipper said.

Unconvinced of that claim, however, is veteran Big Island hunter Patrick Pacheco.

"That's all propaganda. There's no deer," said Pacheco, who has been hunting on the Big Island for 50 years.

To gain confirmation, Pacheco said he checked Friday with fellow hunters in Ka'u, Hamakua, Kona and Kohala. All, he said, offered the same story.

"If they had any deer, we would have known about it, Pacheco added. "This is a fact: There's no deer on the Big Island except for Panaewa (Rainforest) Zoo."

The zoo's exhibits include axis deer.

Some people have mistaken sheep for female axis deer, Schipper said.

Recent sightings include a report from a helicopter pilot who claimed to have seen 10 deer in South Kona, he said. The pilot, however, has not been located to provide more details, Schipper said.

"I have not seen any (axis deer)," said Richard Hoeflinger, who has hunted for 60 years, including 15 years on Hawaii Island, and currently serves as president of Big Island Gun Dogs.

The DLNR wants anyone who sees a deer or other introduced mammal to call the BIISC hotline at 961-3299. Schipper said tipsters also may email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

"Strong, swift action is needed to protect this island from newly introduced ungulates that threaten the environmental character of the Big Island," the DLNR added in its statement.

Tribune-Herald staff writer
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