Photo: Flickr/coniferconifer

6 Nara deer deaths attributed to plastic in stomachs; tourists cautioned to feed animals properly

By Oona McGee, SoraNews24

One of the highlights of a visit to Nara is the chance to walk amongst the city’s free-roaming deer. And with more than two million foreign visitors last year alone, some of the deer in the area have been so well-fed by day trippers that they find it hard to stand on their feet during holiday periods.

However, it appears that some tourists have been feeding these nationally protected animals something other than the deer-friendly senbei crackers sold by vendors in the area. According to a recent report from the Nara Deer Welfare Association, the animals have been eating plastic, which has led to the deaths of a number of deer in recent months.

▼ A senbei vendor in Nara


A veterinarian from the association said a sickly looking deer was found near Todaiji temple in Nara Park on March 23, and although they attempted to feed it, it refused to eat. The severely weak 17-year-old female deer–which weighed 30 kilograms, 10 kilograms below the healthy weight range–died the next day.

An autopsy revealed that the stomach of the animal was almost entirely filled with hardened material that looked like a clump of polyethylene bags. The mass weighed 3.2 kilograms.

Like cows and sheep, deer chew their cud as part of a process called rumination in order to digest nutrients in plant-based foods. The food first enters the rumen, one of their four-chambered stomachs, where it’s broken down by bacteria before being regurgitated for the animal to chew in order to be fully digested. However, the accumulation of so many bags inside the deer’s stomach made it unable to regurgitate, digest, and ingest new food, resulting in its death.

A similar case was recorded last year, when a deer that still had its summer coat in November lost weight and died. An autopsy revealed a clump of bags in its stomach as well.

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.

The association is now appealing to the public to help save the deer from themselves by being more careful with what they allow the deer to eat. Signs around Nara clearly state that deer should not be fed anything other than deer senbei, but there have been sightings of tourists holding out plastic bags with food for the deer to eat, and cases where deer bite into plastic bags carried by tourists. Deer are unable to tell the difference between food and plastic, and if tourists are carrying food or sweets inside plastic bags, which are at nose-height for the animals, the deer’s keen sense of smell will lead them to believe the bag and its contents are both edible food.

Littering around Nara Park is also a problem for the local deer population, so visitors are being reminded to take their litter with them. And in an effort to help tackle the problem, the Nara Deer Welfare Association has now developed a special environmentally friendly bag made from natural materials, to stop any possibility of plastic being consumed inadvertently.

So next time you’re traveling to Nara to meet the deer, you might want to ditch the plastic bags and keep an eye out for any plastic litter lying about. And don’t let the animals bully you into giving them everything they want, no matter how persistent they may be.

Source: Livedoor News via Hachima Kiko

Read more stories from SoraNews24.

-- During Golden Week rush, Nara deer so overwhelmed with rice crackers they wear them as hats

-- Nara’s deer continue their summertime tradition of commandeering one of the city’s streets

-- Adorable bowing deer in Japan shows you can be concurrently cute and courteous【Video】

© SoraNews24

©2022 GPlusMedia Inc.

Login to comment

And don’t let the animals bully you into giving them everything they want, no matter how persistent they may be.

Good luck with that. If you aren't fast enough for them, the deer have been known to bit people hard enough to be bruised for weeks. My friend got it in the knee and limped for weeks. Best policy is not to give them anything they want as too many people are feeding them as it is.

At Miyajima signs specifically ask visitors not to feed the deer as they are (supposed to be) wild and will not forage on the plants of the forest they are meant to eat. Last time I was there imagine my surprise to see that a senbei vendor was set up under the sign.

Like Miyajima deer, the Nara ones aren't meant to eat crackers either. But tell that to people who like feeding cute things.... Mission impossible.

11 ( +12 / -1 )

They shouldn’t be feeding them at all.

10 ( +12 / -2 )

Maybe this is where you need security personel patrolling and making sure that the tourists are feeding the deer the right things. Those poor things are essentially dying of starvation as they are inable to eat. Its a very bad way to go

1 ( +5 / -4 )

unable to eat

3 ( +3 / -0 )

How is that mass tourism working for ya. The deers are cute but perhaps let them walk around the city is not such a good idea after all. But hey what do a few deer lives matter anyway right? As long as we get the cash from all that tourism all is good.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Feeding the deer is fun, but it's clearly gotten out of control. Too many people have been doing it for too long and the deer are now spoiled and aggressive. Add trash to the mix and it's no good.

The deer should be moved out of the city, or perhaps a perimeter set up and only limited tourists allowed to enter per day.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Maybe you should be cautioning the public to NOT feed the deer.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

The simple answer is to stop all feeding. Crackers included, because that simply encourages deer to associate humans with food.

The problem is that feeding the deer has been pushed as part of the tourism experience. I left Kansai in 2000, but it was already like that then, long before foreign tourists and Instagram.

If I'm not mistaken, Todaiji is the world's largest wooden building. While very impressive, there are also arguably nicer temples and shrines in the same park. They should have enough appeal on their own without a mickey-mouse feed-the-animals petting-zoo type experience thrown in.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Welcome to the world of plastic. For years they have been hauling creaures out of the seas who are full of plastic. I doubt many people are feeding plastic to the deer, more like they've come across discarded plastic items. Ban single use plastic, stop wrapping everything in plastic. That would be a big help to all wildlife, not just the deer.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

Banning senbei vendors in the park might help a little.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Someone needs to talk to the sacred deer. They will eat your clothing, your purchases, and little bits of you. Either move them to a different area or have a sacred barbecue.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

An autopsy revealed that the stomach of the animal was almost entirely filled with hardened material that looked like a clump of polyethylene bags. The mass weighed 3.2 kilograms.

It seems like the tourists are not disposing of their trash properly. The deer know that the people are a source of food, so they think everything that people carry with them might be food. Therefore, leaving behind garbage is just asking for trouble. If you don't believe then ask the creatures of the sea. Chinese tourists tend to be the largest contributors to the littering problem in Japan from tourism (ex. plastic bags, drinks, and old luggage).

Yes, Chinese tourist buy luggage in Japan and leave the old tattered luggage outside on the side streets close to businesses and residences. It is has gotten so bad that some hotel chains are offering luggage disposal services because the neighbors are complaining.

Don't allow trash cans or pet bottle recycling bins and place signs everywhere stating to take the trash with them.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Who uses plastic? Who supplies this use?

The world's eco system and all sentient beings suffer as a result.

We are the users and industry supplies our need. Surely this is where we must start.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Truly biodegradable, even edible plastics would be a start.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites