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Nara deer lose weight with no tourists to feed them rice crackers

19 Comments
By Oona McGee, SoraNews24

The city of Nara in Nara prefecture is famous for its free-roaming deer population, who’ve been known to cross at pedestrian crossings and bow to tourists in Nara Park in return for senbei rice crackers.

The animals’ love for gathering around tourists who feed them rice crackers has been well-documented over the years, but now that the tourists have largely disappeared due to travel restrictions imposed during the coronavirus pandemic, it appears the deer’s dependence on senbei is more serious than first thought.

According to a recent news report, roughly 13 million tourists usually visit Nara Park every year, and the number of rice crackers sold annually amount to approximately 20 million. With around 900 deer living in the park, excluding the 400 that are housed in the “Rokuen” deer shelter, this means each deer usually eats more than 60 rice crackers per day.

▼ Shika Senbei (“Deer Rice Crackers”)

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Each senbei weighs about three to four grams and is considered a snack for the deer, who eat about five kilograms of grass a day. However, the nutritional value of a rice cracker is higher than grass, making them extremely attractive to the animals. This encourages them to seek out the rice crackers to such an extent that some of the animals are said to have become dependent on them.

While a number of deer have adapted to the decrease in available rice crackers and switched to eating more grass due to the drop in tourists, some of the deer appear to have lost weight and are now roaming further away from the park, pointing to signs of a serious rice cracker dependence.

Nara-deer-tourists-coronavirus-rice-cracker-dependent-addiction-diet-food-travel-park-Japanese-animals-Japan-news.png

According to a recent survey conducted by The Nara Deer Preservation Foundation (NDPF) and Assistant Professor Shirow Tachizawa from Hokkaido University, it was found that the number of deer staying inside the nature-filled environment of Nara Park is decreasing.

In January this year, before the drop in tourists, 71.9 percent of the deer population was recorded in the park during the day, but in June this dropped to 50.2 percent. Nighttime numbers in the park were at 56.5 percent in January and 34.9 percent in June — a roughly 20-percent decrease in both cases.

While the number of deer in Nara Park has decreased, the number of deer sitting on the grass during the day has increased from 19.3 percent to 59.1 percent. Deer, like cows, digest nutrients through a system called rumination, which requires a lot of rest time, so this increase is a good sign as it indicates these deer are eating more grass and returning to a more healthy natural diet.

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There have also been signs of improvement in the deer droppings, which have become firmer and darker compared to before the pandemic, when they were often loose. Like humans, deer need less refined food and more natural nourishment to maintain healthy levels of intestinal bacteria.

While a lot of the deer seem to be enjoying improved health without tourists, others are now worryingly thin due to their dependence on rice crackers. Assistant Professor Tachizawa, who specializes in the study of wild animals, believes these deer may have become addicted to senbei.

According to a previous survey, some deer ate more than 200 rice crackers a day, leading Tachizawa to speculate that these deer may have become so accustomed to receiving rice crackers that they are now finding it hard to adapt to the changes.

It seems that the coronavirus pandemic is affecting not only the lives of humans, but the lives of the deer at Nara Park as well. Here’s hoping more of the senbei-dependent deer are able to kick their addiction by mimicking the behavior of their grass-eating relatives as soon as possible.

Otherwise the NDPF may have to step in to supplement the diet of the deer with more frequent acts of shikayosethe annual calling of the deer with acorns and a French horn.

Source: Sankei Shimbun via Hachima Kiko

Read more stories from SoraNews24.

-- Nara deer leave park, head to station for food as tourist numbers tumble due to coronavirus

-- Nara deer dies with four kilos of plastic in its stomach, tourists cautioned to feed animals properly

-- Deer in Nara Park outnumber visitors, display baffling summer gathering behaviour

© SoraNews24

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

19 Comments
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The city should be feeding these deer given it allowed them to become dependent upon the rice crackers for sustenance.

18 ( +21 / -3 )

In ten more years, they will be living in mobile homes, watching football on TV from their couch, and eating junk food. I shudder to think of their political persuasions...

13 ( +16 / -3 )

In ten more years, they will be living in mobile homes, watching football on TV from their couch, and eating junk food. I shudder to think of their political persuasions...

Lmao! You’re basically saying they will become hardcore conservatives from the “heartland” of America.

4 ( +11 / -7 )

Too bad this "report" didn't mention how a local group developed edible shopping bags for the Nara deer that local shops will be soon using, which will not only help feed them, but also reduce instances of deer eating plastic bags.

A win for the environment and a double win for the deer.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Don't bite the hand that feeds (fed) you. And I'm not talking about the deer doing the biting.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Surely, their numbers should be culled to prevent starvation?

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Those deer are no longer wild though they say deer are wild. People used to feed much all the time. No wonder some deer are starving.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

It isn't that the deer aren't eating, there is plenty of grass everywhere. They just aren't being overfed junk like they normally are.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Goddam government should feed them, or the temple owners, god knows they’ve made enough money from the Nara landscape.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

Having so many deer in such a small urban place was a stupid idea in the first place, driven by greed. Money was always the most important thing here.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

Hey Bambi welcome to the real world.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

In ten more years, they will be living in mobile homes, watching football on TV from their couch, and eating junk food. I shudder to think of their political persuasions...

Trump 2020!

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

Having so many deer in such a small urban place was a stupid idea in the first place, driven by greed. Money was always the most important thing here.

They've been there a long time and were a Nara staple but with so many tourists it was bound to end up being a mess.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Why don't the shop owners in Nara who make the majority of their income from tourism feed these bambi's?

1 ( +2 / -1 )

This is how important senbei is to some . . . not just people.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

There have also been signs of improvement in the deer droppings, which have become firmer and darker compared to before the pandemic, when they were often loose. Like humans, deer need less refined food and more natural nourishment to maintain healthy levels of intestinal bacteria.

Sounds like the deer are living more like they're supposed to and that there is nothing to see here. Only typical worrying from worrywarts that think losing weight is a bad thing.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Lmao! You’re basically saying they will become hardcore conservatives from the “heartland” of America.

thats all we need thousands of deer wearing MAGA hats screaming KAG while chowing down on rice crackers and sculling left over soda

4 ( +4 / -0 )

This could even be top world news! Give up rice crackers and lose weight!

Seriously though, the herd has probably forgotten how to get sustenance from the environment, e.g. leaves and twigs, weeds, grasses, nuts and fruit, and the knowledge of which plants are good for you and which are poisonous, etc.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The deer can survive by decimating the grass, plants, low branch trees in the area. Although that will introduce another problem. But these deer have been overfed with an unnatural diet due to human greed for tourist money. Deer in nature don't eat rice crackers.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

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