“The Struggle to Contain, and Eat, the Invasive Deer Taking over Hawaii | Modern Farmer” https://modernfarmer.com/2021/05/the-struggle-to-contain-and-eat-the-invasive-deer-taking-over-hawaii/
A wee bit of Hawaii Geography
“Maui County Might Use Homeless to Slow Deer Pop. Growth.” What do you think of that headline for a story about wild deer encroaching on humans on a neighbor island. In Hawaii the “neighbor islands” are the other islands in the Hawaiian archipelago, relative to the writer’s island of residence. Funny thing, there’s no term for one’s own island, something like “home island.” I reside on Oahu, which means “The Gathering Place.” Most of the state’s population make their homes on this island. The state capitol, Honolulu, is on Oahu. Counties are the subdivisions within a state that are administered by local government. The state of Hawaii has counties but unlike Suffolk County, where I lived as a youth in New York, the term “county” is seldom used to refer to a subdivision in the state of Hawaii. I think that’s bc counties are not simply divided by island. Maui County includes the island of Maui, Lāna’i, Moloka’i, Kaho’olawe, and Molokini. You have, no doubt, heard of the island of Maui (we don’t say Maui Island). Pre-pandemic Maui was one of the top tourist sites in the world. You probably haven’t heard of Molokai. Molokai is rural and has a small residential human population. The total 2010 census population was 7345, living on a land area if 262.02 square miles. Compare that number to Oahu, 597 square miles and home to roughly one million people, two-thirds of the Hawaii state population. Animals like deer have a lot of space to roam on Moloka’i. Axis Deer don’t have natural predators among Hawaii animals. The deer do not have to handle high rent like humans, so there’s no impediment to their proliferation. It is not normal for deer to be at the top of the food chain, and for me that’s a big clue that the deer were imported. I checked and discovered the deer were indeed introduced from India, Nepal and Sri Lanka to serve as a roaming game animal. No one knew the future ramifications of creating a population of non-native animals within an island archipelago that’s the most isolated populated land in the world. Today’s humans are reaping a mixed crop of sweet and bitter fruit from the seeding of Axis deer, as well as other “,invasive species.”
A Blessing and a Curse
One result of that long ago decision is a deer population of 100,000 on Moloka’i. Recall that Moloka’i has fewer than 8,000 permanent residents.
Farmers have endured significant financial losses. In January 2021 Maui County was declared a federal disaster area, allowing the farmers to receive federal disaster relief dollars. If not for abundant venison, people might have faced the real possibility of going hungry. That’s an example of a mixed outcome.
What can be done? I learned during my March 2021 trip to Moloka’i that deer hunting is legal and a part of today’s culture and venison is a dietary staple for many. In the past humans brought them in, today humans must take them out. In this way the Axis deer are vermin, a lot like rats, except for the fact that some consider them fit to eat. A considerable number of people with few options need the deer as a dietary staple, not supplement. No one will find Axis deer offered as venison on the menu in the finest restaurants.
One proposed solution involves people near and dear to me (pun unintended)
The deer’s status as vermin was on my mind when I watched a local news report about Maui County’s Axis deer overpopulation and proposed solutions. One idea that’s in the running: humanly hunt the deer and feed the venison to–who else?–the homeless. No one suggested stocking Safeway with venison. Nor does anyone say the deer could be sold as a natural resource. They are destructive. They are pests. They are perfect meals for homeless people. More than a few people consider Hawaii’s homeless as destructive pests that need government intervention for the purpose of removal. As far as I know the deer meal idea has not been implemented. What interests me is who the decision makers believe should eat the deer.
Note: by comparing deer to rats I am using hyperbole, or exaggeration, to make a point. No one has suggested feeding rats to the homeless. I want to be clear on this point. I don’t want my credible called into question bc of a misunderstanding. Yes, I am working on the clarity of my writing! LoL.