HILO — It’s only an estimated 3 to 6 percent of the problem, but it’s a start.
A pair of hunters hired by the Big Island Invasive Species Committee to eradicate axis deer have killed three of the ungulates, which are a threat to crops and native plants.
The illegally transported deer were first confirmed on the island in 2011. Their numbers remain unknown, though the group has estimated that their population is somewhere between 50 and 100.
The latest deer was killed earlier this month in Ka‘u, said Deborah Ward, state Department of Land and Natural Resources spokeswoman, in an email.
“Progress to date on removing located animals has been 100 percent,” she said.
The hunters killed their first axis deer, known to be elusive, in April.
Hunting can be encumbered since the group needs permission to go on private property. The hunters use infrared technology to track the animals, which are active at night.
BIISC has surveyed 212,251 acres of habitat from the air and ground.
Ward said the program will not end until the last deer has been dispatched.
“The complete removal of deer from this island is possible with the ongoing assistance of partner agencies and support from the community,” she said. “Efforts will continue indefinitely until that goal is reached.”
Thomas Hauptman has pleaded guilty to illegally flying three deer from Maui to the Big Island in December 2009.
He also transported a half dozen sheep from the Big Island to Maui.
Hauptman will be sentenced Sept. 18 in U.S. District Court for violating the federal Lacey Act, which among other things prohibits trade in wildlife that is collected or transported illegally.
The state Legislature didn’t make it illegal to transport the deer between islands until this year. Hawaii County banned their import in November. Hilo’s Panaewa Rainforest Zoo is exempt from the law.
Ken Foote, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman, said Hauptman has not identified the recipient of the deer.
“He just said it was a friend of his and another guy he knew but he didn’t give names or locations,” Foote said.
Others are believed to be involved, and the investigation is ongoing.
Hauptman, who owns Pacific Helicopter Tours in Maui, has previously made headlines for a daring rescue that took place in the Kilauea volcano’s Puu Oo vent.
Three men, including two members of a film crew and their pilot, were on a helicopter that crashed in the vent in 1992.
All three survived.
He is also known to Lori Buchanan, BIISC’s acting manager.
Buchanan said Hauptman had been hired to fly conservation workers to remote locations on Maui.
“I think anybody working with conservation for many years in Maui County has at one time or another flown with Tom,” she said.