Invasive species are an overwhelming problem in America, leaving scientists and conservationists struggling to stay one step ahead of the threat.
The issue of invasive species begs the question: can we predict the next invasive species before it becomes an unmanageable problem?
While whitetail deer are a continuing nuisance, their foreign cousin the sika may soon grow to be just as much of a pest. The sika deer, a native of Asia, is a good candidate for the next species that will, in their own way, take over North America's wildlife habitat.
Picking the Sika
It's difficult to predict the next harmful invasive species, but sika deer are a viable candidate since they are already here, and their relative the whitetail already causes a great deal of harm. There are over 30 million whitetail deer in the country, and they exceed their carrying capacity in many areas. Whitetails are widely vilified for causing car accidents, nibbling on gardens or consuming cash crops, and spreading diseases.
The apple may not fall far from the tree. The sika also wreaks a bit of havoc in other areas where it's native or has been introduced. In Japan, the species is overabundant, and is even known to charge or headbutt humans that approach them.
In a recent study, the sika was found to be one of the most destructive mammals in Europe for its adverse affect on the environment and economy. To give an idea of its reputation, it was on the same list as the muskrat and the brown rat.
Like whitetails, sika have proven to be profilic breeders when unchecked by natural predators. In the 1900s, just two sika deer escaped into the English woods. By the 1930s, culling had to be introduced to the area to reduce their population.
In some ways, sika have the potential to be even worse than whitetails. For example, unlike their relatives, sika are usually active 24 hours a day. In crowded areas, they are active only at night, making them a greater danger to motorists and more difficult to discourage from invading human territory.
There are already a few complaints about the sika in America, where they've been introduced mainly in Texas and Maryland, and perhaps expanded elsewhere. Like many an invasive species, the sika was introduced with good intentions, but like those before it, the sika shows signs it could grow out of control.
Sika are voracious foragers that have been known to cause farmers to lose crops. They occupy the same niche as whitetail deer and red deer and can interbreed with them, giving them the opportunity to develop hybrid species. Despite all this, the sika rarely makes the list of threatening invasive species, overshadowed by wild hogs, starlings, and carp.
Before It's a Problem
There are permits available to hunt sika deer, but like the whitetail deer, it's likely this will do little to control their population. Natural predators could make an impact, like wolves did when reintroduced to Yellowstone, although this method is highly controversial in areas with a human populace.
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With its track record as a nuisance wherever it lives, and an already established footprint in the U.S., the sika deer deserves a closer look before it becomes more than we can handle.