Kalaupapa Eradicates Deer Hazard
While axis deer have become part of leading a subsistent lifestyle on Molokai, their presence has caused some problems for residents down at Kalaupapa, including damage to coastal vegetation and gardens as well as posing safety issues at the airport and on the road. This week, the National Park Service (NPS) held a two-day deer hunt to eradicate an estimated 20 to 40 axis deer from the settlement.
The process started early Monday morning with the help of 15 to 20 people to help push, or navigate, the deer from the coastal, airport and settlement areas. They were herded to a holding pen in the settlement and then be dispatched using a rifle. Only people who have received training to handle firearms, like law enforcement officials and a few NPS workers, will carry rifles, according to Paul Hosten, Terrestrial Ecologist for the NPS. The meat will then be processed at the slaughterhouse in Kalaupapa. Renovations on the historic slaughterhouse were completed earlier this year and it has been restored to a fully-functioning facility. The meat will be distributed to residents.
“Deer within the settlement of Kalaupapa have become a nuisance and safety hazard,” said Hosten via email. Along with causing safety concerns for landing and departing aircraft at the airport and destroying residential gardens, they also trample archaeological and cultural sites at the settlement and threaten rare plant species, he added.
While there are fences designated to exclude deer from unwanted areas like the airport, they continue to find a way in, making eradication the most viable option, according to Hosten.
In the past, Kalaupapa has conducted a number of initiatives to eradicate deer from the settlement, according to Department of Health (DOH) Kalaupapa Administrator Mark Miller. Hosten said they used to hold deer pushes more regularly before the practice was discontinued. However, he added that they now hope to hold one every three to six months to keep deer at low, manageable numbers.
“[Deer] are in such numbers at times in the settlement –I have seen groups up to 30 to 40 –that their passage can leave an area devoid of foliage or present a formidable hazard running in all directions,” said Miller.
Axis deer found their way to Kalaupapa in the early to mid 1900s, according to Hosten. While they were originally hunted by patients, they are now hunted primarily by NPS and DOH employees by obtaining a special permit through the DOH. The Patient Advisory Committee at Kalaupapa opposes any non-residents hunting at Kalaupapa.
Some patients and residents expressed concern about baby deer at this month’s community meeting last week. Whereas the NPS had planned to eradicate the deer without bias, some residents asked to spare young animals, to which Holsten agreed.
“I promis[e] to release young deer to the outside of the settlement fence,” said Holsten. “We may also release a portion of the older deer if we trap too many animals to process efficiently.”
The State Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) is also holding an aerial hunt separate from the NPS deer hunt. They use a helicopter to hunt animals along the pali, while the NPS conducts hunts on the peninsula, according to Miller.