A social media post advertising the sale of a white-tailed fawn has triggered calls from concerned farmers and environmental experts for Government intervention in controlling the island’s deer population.
According to environmentalist Damion Whyte, he became aware of the impending transaction after a perturbed Instagram follower sent him a direct message questioning the legality of the action.
Noting that there are no laws against the sale of the invasive animal, Whyte told the Jamaica Observer that concerns were raised regarding the environmental implications of these animals roaming across the island.
Phone calls made to the contact number listed in the social media advert went unanswered; however, based on comments on the post, the animal was successfully “rehomed”.
The white-tailed deer was introduced to the island in the 1980s as a tourist attraction at Somerset Falls in Portland. However, the population has increased since the escape of three does and three bucks during Hurricane Gilbert in 1988. Since then, there have been countless reports of deer sightings across the eastern parish with deer hunting also becoming a sporting activity for many Jamaicans.
Irrespective of the thrill brought by the animal, Whyte told the Sunday Observer that all Jamaicans should be worried about the sale of the invasive species.
“I know a farmer who had about two acres of carrots and when the carrots were ready to be reaped, they devastated the farm and he lost a lot of money. Then you have some other people growing other crops and the deer go in and mash up the place, so this is a big problem for agriculture,” said Whyte.
At the same time, Whyte pointed out that the animals have naturally spread to other areas across the eastern region as the white-tailed deer have been reportedly spotted close to the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park. With the national park stretching across four eastern parishes — St Andrew, St Thomas, Portland, and St Mary — Whyte said that the country’s endemic species are at risk of being damaged or consumed by the animals, should they venture into the protected area.
“The deer eats a lot of our native vegetation and some of them might be endemic to Jamaica. A lot of the native plants take a long time to grow back and the ones that are not from here grow like weed. The deer is also good at spreading invasive species,” the environmentalist told the Sunday Observer.
Pointing to the troubles faced by farmers in Portland, Whyte said he is uneasy by the thought of the animals being sold and becoming loose in different parishes where agriculture plays a major role in the livelihood of residents.
“The reason we have a problem with people selling and taking deer to other parts of the island is because of the same problem that we have to be dealing with in Portland. Just imagine if the deer get loose in St Elizabeth, our bread basket — that is why it is a big concern,” Whyte explained.
“We heard about people having deer in Clarendon. Also, based on social media and other people talking to me, there are records of people in other areas growing deer and keeping them like goats. We have information of people taking them to other places and keeping them as pets,” the added Whyte who is also a terrestrial biologist.
Portland farmer Karen Tyrell told the Sunday Observer that she, too, is concerned by the sale of deer as the animals have wreaked havoc on farms in her community of Content. Raising similar concerns regarding the introduction of deer in other farming parishes, Tyrell argued that an increase in the deer population may affect the country’s food security as the animal has no natural predators in Jamaica.
“If they escape and the population grows there, it will be a disaster for the farmers. The deer eats most of the crops that farmers produce — yam and vegetables — so that can affect our food security,” she said.
Tyrell explained that there are not many ways to control the animal’s innate ability to graze on vegetation.
“It is hard to control. Some farmers put soap in their fields to repel them because when they smell the soap they think someone is there, but apart from that they can’t control it. This is a big issue because the population is great and the climate is ideal for the deer population to grow,” the farmer told the Sunday Observer.
Concerned for his crops in St Elizabeth, farmer Everton Holness is urging residents of the bread basket to be on the watch for deer in the parish.
“We have to look out for who brings this animal into our space and let NEPA (National Environment and Planning Agency) know about it because we can’t afford for them to get loose down here.
Holness said that the sale of the invasive species should be a concern to all Jamaicans who purchase ground provisions as damage to crops will ultimately come at a cost to consumers.
“If reindeer come into St Elizabeth we are going to have problems with our crops because dem animal deh a go damage the things dem, so we can’t really mek that happen. If that happens, you know the price of things a go even higher than now because as you can imagine, the animals a go eat down the crops so the farmer a go lose money,” Holness told the Sunday Observer.
David Walters, executive director of the Jamaica Conservation and Development Trust (JCDT), which manages the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park, said while the JCDT’s patrol records do not show that there are deer within the national park boundaries, the trust has been getting reports from people living in communities adjacent to the park that there seems to be an increase in the deer population.
“We don’t have data to support that, and that is a big part of the problem because we don’t know the population and there isn’t much study going on right now to get our hands on what is happening with the deer, so that is concerning for us,” Walters told the Sunday Observer.
Asked what measures are being taken by the JCDT to protect the national park, Walters explained that rangers are frequently dispatched to the areas where they have received reports of deer being spotted. However, he said that additional partnerships are needed in the form of academic studies.
“It still needs a systematic approach to address the problem properly. It would be helpful if we could collaborate with the Government or other stakeholders in academia to craft research projects or do a population assessment in those areas, so we can have some more data. That could inform government policy or strategy in terms of what to do about the deer,” said Walters.