NARA (Japan) • Several foreign objects, including plastic bags, have been found in the stomachs of deer in Japan's Nara Park, a popular tourist attraction, and the problem has been attributed to the worsening behaviour of tourists.
Deer in the park are protected as a national natural monument.
The issue of environmental damage from plastic waste has now cast a shadow on the iconic animals in the nation's ancient capital.
On May 12, a female deer aged about 14 died at the deer protection facility in the park. It weighed 38kg.
A brown, tangled mass of plastic bags and snack wrappers was found in her stomach. It weighed 4.3kg.
The Nara Deer Preservation Foundation, which helps look after the animals' welfare, found plastic bags and other garbage in the stomachs of nine deer after the foundation carried out autopsies on 14 animals that have died in the park since March.
It is believed that the deer have developed a habit of snatching plastic bags after visitors repeatedly fed them with snacks from such bags.
The deer also eat discarded snack wrappers on which the scent of food remains.
"It's difficult to notice by looking at them because of their fur, but if you actually touch them, some of them are so thin they're just skin and bones," said Dr Rie Maruko, a veterinarian at the foundation.
"In one case, a deer lost more than 10kg of weight."
About 16 million people visit the 511-ha Nara Park annually, with the number of inbound tourists growing.
Officials of the privately run Nara Park Deer Consulting Office routinely patrol the park, and they have found notably increasing amounts of litter.
There have also been more cases of deer biting people.
According to the office, the number of visitors who were injured in deer-related incidents stood at 50 in fiscal 2013. But it quadrupled to 227 in fiscal 2018.
Of those hurt, eight suffered serious injuries, including broken bones.
In April last year, the Nara prefectural government installed signs in English and Chinese at 25 locations in the park, informing visitors what to observe when feeding the deer.
THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ ASIA NEWS NETWORK