Killer Turkey on the Prowl in Upcountry Maui?

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GOLDEN KILLER?: Pukalani resident Kevin Grace last week snapped this photo of a wild turkey that locals believe has been attacking livestock and domestic animals in the Upcountry region since last summer.

Upcountry Maui locals are convinced that injuries found on livestock and other animals in their part of the island are the work of a rare turkey breed with unknown behavioral traits.

The Golden Turkey, a rare and fierce-looking North American turkey subspecies, recognizable by the sharp horn atop the head of adults, is believed to be the culprit for at least a dozen animal attacks on Maui since the summer, state officials said.

“We have been fortunate in that a local grabbed a photo of a prowler outside Kula the other day,” said Jordan Littlemeister, Maui warden for the state Department of Fish and Game. “The Golden Turkey is rare in North America, and this photo appears to be from this species, with the horn and golden hue to the feathers.”

Kevin Grace of Pukalani, an avid hiker in the Makawao Forest Reserve region, grabbed a snapshot of the suspect turkey while stealthily searching for wild mushrooms last week.

“We were real quiet and careful not to step on any mushrooms since it had just rained, so we were close to the ground, sniffing through some cow paddies, and were kind of quiet by accident,” said Grace on Monday, donning a Los Angeles Dodgers cap. “We turned around a tree and Wham! There it was. It was huge and still and very, um, golden.”

The Golden Turkey is a recent addition to the list of North American turkey subspecies. It is believed to be a relative to the Merriam’s Wild Turkey, the most abundant subspecies in the mountain regions of the Western United States.

The Merriam’s are known to have the weakest gobble of all the subspecies, which leads Hawaii animal authorities to believe the Golden Turkey is related due to its soft “ai’ ai’ ai’ ai’” gobble.

“We think the gobble volume, and strange sound, gives it away,” Littlemeister said. “Many of its traits seem to match reports of the suspect here according to locals’ reports. What no one can figure out is why, precisely, this lone turkey has become a killer.”

Since last summer, there have been at least a dozen reports of animals, both range stock and domestic, suffering strange wounds that look like groups of deep scratches. The small cuts look like those that would be produced by a fowl with short spurs on its feet ~ like the Merriam and Golden.

However, the Golden Turkey has only been identified as a new subspecies for about a decade, and little is known about the behavioral traits of this rather reclusive type of turkey.

“It’s too soon to be talking about a ‘killer turkey’ out there, but our antennas are up,” said Margaret Townshend of Makawao, who noticed a pair of her cows with the unusual scratches last week. “Sure, now it might just be scratches, but who’s to say soon we won’t find a carcass out there, totally eaten up by some wild turkey?”

"We were scared out there in the forest," Grace said. "That thing was big enough to seriously hurt a person, and it didn't look afraid at all of these two dudes carrying a big bag of fungi."

Meanwhile Fish and Game officials are trying to determine how a Golden Turkey got on island. Turkeys have existed for years on Maui, but in recent years can be found almost entirely on ranch land in the hills above the South Maui communities of Kihei, Wailea, and Makena.

“So far, we think a Canadian brought one over,” Littlemeister said. “I mean, since the pandemic ended we’ve had an invasion of Canadians on Maui, with all these Blue Jays hats and such, drinking Molsons and Mooseheads. Who knows what they pack when they come here?

“We just hope they didn’t bring a pair, a male and female, to mate. Last thing we need among our Maui wild kingdom is a family of killer turkeys. We don't want to become a Saturday Night Live skit.”

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