Plastic bags found in deer at Japan's famous Nara Park

After people repeatedly fed them with snacks from plastic bags, deer in the park have developed the behavior of snatching plastic bags, apparently expecting to find food inside.
After people repeatedly fed them with snacks from plastic bags, deer in the park have developed the behavior of snatching plastic bags, apparently expecting to find food inside. PHOTO: THE JAPAN NEWS / ASIA NEWS NETWORK

NARA, JAPAN (THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - A number of foreign objects such as plastic bags have been found in the stomachs of deer in Japan's Nara Park, a popular tourist attraction. The problem is believed to stem from the worsening manners of tourists, including inbound visitors.

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 even the iconic animals in the nation's ancient capital.

On May 12, a female deer died at the deer protection facility in the park at an estimated age of 14. It weighed 38kg. A brown, tangled mass of plastic bags and snack wrappers weighing 4.3kg was found in its stomach.

According to the Nara Deer Preservation Foundation, which has been engaged in deer protection activities at the park, the foundation found plastic bags and other rubbish in the stomachs of nine deer after the foundation carried out autopsies on 14 deer that died in the park since March.

After people repeatedly fed them with snacks from plastic bags, deer in the park have developed the behaviour of snatching plastic bags, apparently expecting to find food inside. They 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 that they're just skin and bones," said Rie Maruko, a veterinarian at the foundation. "In one case, a deer lost more than 10kg of weight."

About 16 million people visit the 511ha Nara Park annually and the number of inbound tourists is increasing. Officials of the privately run Nara Park Deer Consulting Office routinely patrol the park and they have found notably increasing amounts of litter.


A mass of plastic bags and other foreign objects found in the stomach of a deer that died in March is seen on a scale. PHOTO: COURTESY OF THE NARA DEER PRESERVATION FOUNDATION

 
 
 

With the growing number of visitors, incidents such as deer biting people are increasing. According to the Nara Park Deer Consulting Office, people who were injured in deer-related incidents stood at 50 in fiscal 2013. But the figure had quadrupled to 227 in fiscal 2018. Of such people, 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 of points to observe when feeding deer with crackers specially prepared for the animals.

Complaints from injured foreigners have been increasing at the consulting office, and the office introduced a multilingual translation machine late last year in a bid to have smoother conversations with such foreigners.