WAILUKU, Maui (AP) — The Maui Axis Deer Working Group is trying to quantify the invasive animal’s population, while exploring whether developing a venison meat industry is a feasible solution for controlling its growth.
A September aerial survey counted about 8,000 deer in East Maui, the most heavily affected area. That’s still a preliminary figure, said Kanalu Sproat, the group’s program manager and only full-time staff member. Population estimates have ranged from a couple of thousand to tens of thousands.
“That’s not island-wide, obviously, but it is the core of where the majority of the deer are,” Sproat said of the survey of 125,000 acres.
Axis deer, which have a pinkish color with white spots, were introduced to Maui in 1959, damaging farms, ranches and resorts. The deer are native to India and other parts of South Asia.
The group is working with a University of Delaware student studying a potential venison industry on the island, the Maui News reported Monday. It’s something the Maui Axis Deer Harvesting Cooperative has expressed interest in.
Hunting the animal has led axis deer to become somewhat “culturally important,” Sproat said. Most residents want them controlled, not eliminated, he said.
University of Delaware graduate student Elena Rubino’s thesis is focused on a potential Maui venison industry. She’s asking residents to complete a survey on whether they would be interested in buying axis deer meat.
Sproat noted there are obstacles. For instance, no federal agriculture inspectors are based in Maui, he said. Such inspectors must be present during hunts and when a deer is brought to a slaughterhouse.
The group in March plans to put radio collars on 20 female deer to monitor survival and reproduction rates.
“I wanted to do it on a larger scale, but funding is limited,” Sproat said.
The group will also send surveys to farmers, ranchers and residents asking about the number of axis deer that are seen and what management methods are acceptable.