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Hawaiian Pilot Pleads Guilty To Transporting Deer, Sheep Between Islands

August 22, 2012
Axis deer feeding in an evergreen field. Image Credit Wikipedia CC By SA 3.0

Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

An alleged scheme to transport wildlife between the Hawaiian Islands has been broken up and a pilot accused of loading deer onto helicopters and flying them from one island to another has pled guilty in the case, reports Huffington Post.

Thomas Leroy Hauptman, a helicopter pilot from Maui had been accused of transporting axis deer and mouflon sheep, animals that cannot swim, from their native habitats to the Big Island where sport hunters could establish new game populations for their sport. The introduced presence of the animals has damaged the fragile native ecosystems on the islands where they have now become established.

The axis deer, which was introduced to Maui in the 1950s, has now taken a stronghold in some wild areas on the main island of Hawaii. And the mouflon sheep, which is native to northern Iraq and Iran, has been introduced to Maui for the first time. The introduction of these animals is a deep concern for conservationists who fear the animals could escape game hunting reserves and also give others the idea to bring more.

“Some of our most endangered dry forest community on Maui would definitely be negatively impacted if sheep got established on Maui. They’re already being impacted by the deer. The sheep would just be one more thing that was contributing to their demise,” said Chuck Chimera, a botanist on Maui involved in efforts to fight invasive species.

Assistant US Attorney Michael Song said Hauptman flew four axis deer from Maui to the Big Island and returned nearly a dozen mouflon sheep to Maui. Hauptman on Monday pled guilty in federal court to one misdemeanor count of illegal transportation of wildlife. He could face a year in prison for his crime. His defense team suggested he be sentenced to community service by flying 500 hours working for the group fighting to eradicate axis deer from Hawaii, the Big Island Invasive Species Committee.

Song said Hauptman was only a courier in the scheme and not the mastermind behind it.

The owner of the Maui ranch where the sheep were flown to, Jeffrey Scott Grundhauser, has also been charged with one misdemeanor count of selling wildlife without a permit. He faces up to a year in prison for his crime as well.

Hawaii Business magazine reported that Grundhauser ran a hunting tour business on his Kula property and had a customer base of 50 to 60 people each year, who paid $1,250 each for a two-day adventure that included meals, guide services, and the opportunity to kill up to three deer.

Populations of axis deer have exploded across the Big Island as there are no natural predators there. The deer, which are native to India, have caused more than a million dollars worth of damage so far for farmers, ranchers and resort owners over the past two years in Maui. Conservationists worry the deer could wreak similar havoc on the Big Island if they become established there. Current estimates put about 100 axis deer living on the main island due to efforts by hunting schemes to introduce them there.

The mouflon sheep introduced to Hawaii are a hybrid of feral sheep and mouflon sheep. The hybrids are one reason the population of the enlarged palila, a yellow-crowned songbird native to the upper slopes of Mauna Kea volcano on the Big Island, is disappearing.

A US Geological Survey study in 2010 estimated that only about 1,200 palila remained, a 75 percent drop from 2003, when there were an estimated 4,400 birds. The sheep eat and trample on the mamane trees the palila rely on for food.

The introduction of sheep and deer to Hawaii is a significant factor for why Hawaii has so many species listed as endangered or threatened, according to Earl Campbell, field supervisor for the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Hawaii is home to 421 endangered and 16 threatened species of plants and animals. “I think it’s very unfortunate that individuals can potentially cause such great environmental harm by moving these species between sites,” Campbell said.

The introduction of these animals has also damaged Hawaii´s economy, because they have torn through forests holding the water that Hawaii relies on for drinking and farming, noted Trae Menard, conservation director of the Nature Conservancy of Hawaii.

“The more these animals are allowed to damage the forest, over time, the less water we’re going to have,” Menard said.


Source: Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online