KAUNAKAKAI, MOLOKAI (KHON2) — Recent drought conditions have caused problems for farmers statewide, but on the island of Molokai the drought is killing deer and that is creating even more issues for residents.

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Molokai resident Walter Ritte said, it has never been this bad before and is calling it “a major problem.”

Axis deer were a gift to King Kamehameha V in 1867. They have been a reliable source of food on Molokai ever since, but now they are dying in record numbers and residents are asking for a way to better manage their population.

Rep. Lynn DeCoite called the situation a health and safety crisis. She said, she has called the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) and other state agencies to assist.

The DLNR confirmed the deer are dying of starvation due to the drought after surveying the situation and testing the animals.

Aisha Childs lives in Maunaloa on the west side of the island, one of the areas hit the hardest.

“They are dying. Anywhere–they just drop. They just get weak, and they can’t move no more. And they did die. I found one in my garage that I had to pull out to the end of my driveway, just the other day,” Childs said.

“On one day we had over 13 deer in one load,” Childs said. “That’s every day. So it’s really bad. I know behind my house there are carcasses because I can smell it.”

She said there is a smell of death in the air everywhere on the west side.

The Department of Public Works, other State and County agencies and Molokai Ranch have been helping to remove the dead deer, according to DeCoite.

Deer have been ravaging crops since they are starving.

“They’re eating everything in sight. They’re in my yard every single night. All my gardens are being attacked,” Ritte said.

“Deer is eating the banana tree leaves. They’re eating Plumeria leaves, I mean, whatever they can eat, they’re eating everything,” Childs said.

DeCoite said a number of local farms were hit hard.

“We’re trying to create food and double food production, but at the same time dealing with the overpopulated axis dear, I get the point that this is a gift from the king. But at the same time, that gift needs to be managed,” DeCoite explained.

Molokai residents like Ritte and Childs both agree that the axis deer should not be eradicated, but their population needs to be controlled.

“We depend on the deer for protein. So because of the fish and, and the deer, we have a really good solid subsistence economy. So now that economy is being threatened. So the solution I think right now is going to be we need to come up with a management plan for the deer,” Ritte said.

In a statement, DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife Administrator David Smith said, “This situation reminds us of the vital importance of controlling invasive species. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy of invasive, non-native deer over-populating, degrading our forested watersheds and now starving as a result.”

Years of overgrazing by the uncontrolled deer population is creating erosion, according to DeCoite, and silt runoff is smothering the coral reefs, threatening fishing in near-shore waters.

DeCoite said she has tried to introduce legislation to address the growing deer population, but it was shot down. She hopes to move something through this legislative session to address the problem.

In a press release, the DLNR said:

On private lands, the landowner is responsible for removal; for animals on state highways, the Hawai’i Department of Transportation; Maui County Department of Public Works for carcasses on county road easements; or the Maui County Department of Parks and Recreation if the dead animals are in a county park. DOFAW will respond in the case of live or injured deer in need of wildlife control. Contact information for responsible people or agencies are listed below.

DLNR Press Release on Wednesday, Dec. 30.

To report deer carcasses:

  • Moloka’i Ranch, (808) 552-2444
  • State highways, (808) 873-3535
  • County road easements, (808) 553-3222
  • DLNR lands, (808) 984-8100

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