JUST a 45-minute train ride south of Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan, lies the famous Nara Park. One of the highlights of a visit to Nara is the chance to walk amongst the city’s free-roaming deer, who have learned to bow for treats.
The deer, wild and out in the open in the park, have grown accustomed to being fed by tourists, most of whom travel to Nara for this very reason. “Deer Crackers” or “Shika (deer) Senbei (cracker)” made of wheat flour and rice bran without any sugar for the health of the deer should be offered to the deer.
Since March this year, a total of eight deer with deaths from unknown causes have been autopsied. Six were found to have plastic bags in their stomachs, with the largest clump weighing 4.3 kilograms. Like cow and sheep, deer chew their cud as part of a process called rumination in order to digest nutrients in plant-based foods. The accumulation of so many plastic bags inside the deer’s stomach made it unable to regurgitate, digest, and ingest new food, resulting in its death.
There were more than two million foreign visitors last year alone. Littering is the real problem. Attracted by the smell of food, they accidentally ingest plastic. Some tourists have been feeding deer with something other than the deer-friendly “shika senbei”. According to a recent report from the Nara Deer Welfare Organization, the animals have been eating plastic, which has led to the deaths of a number of deer in recent months.
The association is now appealing to the public to help save the deer by being more careful with what they allow the deer to eat.