By TOM CALLIS
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Hunters hired by the Big Island Invasive Species Committee have killed their fourth axis deer.
The deer was hunted last May in Ka‘u, according to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Originally established on Oahu and Molokai in 1868, the deer from south Asia are considered invasive and the BIISC has been attempting to eradicate them from the island since April 2012.
They were illegally introduced to a Ka‘u ranch in 2009 by several men hoping to use them as a hunting resource.
Four were flown over by helicopter from Maui as part of a deer-for-sheep swap but only three survived the trip.
Their current numbers are unknown. One of the deer killed so far may have been an offspring since BIISC believes it was too young to have been flown over four years ago.
“Right now we’re not trying to give out a firm number on how many deer are on the island,” Springer Kaye, BIISC manager, said in a phone interview, noting that estimates are difficult.
“We expect there are more deer,” Kaye said.
So far, deer have only been confirmed in Ka‘u. But there have been reports of sightings elsewhere on the island.
“The good news is we really haven’t found any (evidence) of an established population as of yet,” said Jake Muise, BIISC’s deer coordinator.
Muise said the organization gets reports of deer sightings in Kohala. It’s possible that they could have been confused with other animals, Kaye said.
“Axis deer look very similar to Mouflon sheep, but all axis deer have white spots,” she said via email. “Mouflon do not.”
Hunts are continuing and the BIISC is also conducting helicopter flights to search for the elusive animals.
“We do a lot of flights in the Ka‘u area,” Muise said. “We’re just getting started on the South Kona portion.”
The flights are being done for free by Thomas Hauptman, the helicopter pilot who illegally transported the deer, as part of a court order.
Those flights are expected to continue until September.
The state is the largest financial supporter of the deer eradication program with funding coming through DLNR and the Hawaii Invasive Species Council, Kaye said in an email. Grant funding is also used.
Equipment, including infrared imaging and vehicles, is on loan from federal and private sources.
To-date cost estimates weren’t immediately available.
Email Tom Callis at email@example.com.