Malnourished Nara Park deer in Japan dies with 3.2kg of plastic in stomach

Deer in Nara Park have been eating plastic trash left behind by visitors.

Kayla Wong| Ashley Tan| May 30, 12:32 PM

Nara Park in Japan is a tourist hotspot famous for its abundance of Sika deer.

Photo by coniferconifer / Flickr

Tourists can feed, pet and take selfies with the numerous deer roaming around freely in the park.

However, like many tourist destinations around the world, it seems that the large number of visitors is taking a toll on the wildlife.

Sickly deer found very underweight

This time, a deer has fallen victim to plastic waste left behind by humans.

A Sora News article dated May 27, 2019 reported that a sickly-looking deer was found on March 23, near Todaiji Temple inside Nara Park.

Attempts to feed the deer were unsuccessful as it refused to eat.

Unfortunately, the 17-year-old female was extremely weak, and died the next day.

At the time of its death, it was severely underweight, weighing only 30kg, which is 10kg below the healthy weight range for a deer.

3.2kg of plastic in its stomach

An autopsy later revealed a huge, hardened wad of what appeared to be polyethylene bags, the most common type of plastic bags used today.

The entangled mass weighed a shocking 3.2kg.

Here's what it looks like on a weighing scale:

Photo from @nara_aigokai / Twitter

The Nara Deer Welfare Association tweeted the picture of the plastic mass and urged visitors to stop littering in the park:

Here's what the association wrote:

"This might be sudden, but what do you think this is? These are plastic bags found in the stomach of a deer that has died recently. The bags weigh 3.2kg.

Please see the staff blog "Stop littering at Nara Park" (link)"

Plastic prevented doe from eating

Deer, along with cows and goats, belong to a category of animals called ruminants.

The plants these herbivorous mammals chew will be swallowed and then digested in one of their four-chambered stomachs.

The food will then be regurgitated, chewed and swallowed again, to make it easier for digestion by microbes in the stomach.

In the case of this deer, it is likely that the plastic in its stomach prevented her from regurgitating, digesting and consuming more food properly.

This was the likely cause of death and the reason behind the deer's poor health and low weight, a veterinarian in charge of the autopsy, Rie Maruko told Asahi Shimbun:

“The deer was old, and it is possible she died of old age. But she was skinny and her fur was dull. Apparently, she couldn't take in enough nutrition because her stomach was blocked by the plastic bags.”

Not the first incident

Shockingly, this is not the first time such an incident has occurred.

According to the Nara Deer Welfare Association, since March 2019, six out of eight deer who died from unknown causes were discovered with large clumps of plastic in their stomachs too.

The largest clump weighed 4.3kg.

Numerous signs are posted throughout Nara Park warning visitors that the deer are to be fed only shika-senbei, special deer-friendly rice crackers sold by vendors in the area.

A sign stating that visitors should only feed deer shika-senbei. Photo by Joy B. Malsi / FB

However, Sora News mentioned that tourists are often seen holding out plastic bags with crackers inside. As the deer are unable to tell the difference between the plastic and food, they mistake the plastic for edible food and bite into the material as well.

Additionally, tourists still leave trash lying around despite notices prohibiting littering in the park. Such trash can be accidentally ingested by deer as well.

To discourage littering as well as protect the Nara Park deer from consuming trash, the Nara Deer Welfare Association developed an eco-friendly tote bag which is apparently made from "natural materials".

The bags are even decorated in the same spotted pattern as the deer's fur, and are sold at souvenir shops for ¥1,350 (S$16.99).

Here's what the tweet says:

"This is an eco bag that protects the deer.

A bag made of mosquito net fabric with the spotted pattern on a deer ♪

Bring it along when you take a walk at the Nara Park, ok?"

The bag seems to be very handy for storing one's belongings and other food.

Things to take note of when you visit Nara Park

If you plan to visit Nara Park, here are some tips on how to be a conscientious and considerate visitor.

  • Feed the deer shika-senbei only.
  • Don't tease the deer with food, or withhold food from them. Feed them a cracker after they've bowed to you.
  • Keep all other food inside your bag.
  • Don't litter. There are no garbage cans in Nara Park, so do keep your trash in your bag first and dispose of them elsewhere.
  • It's best to avoid being surrounded by hungry deer when you are out of shika-senbei.
  • Don't hit or ride the deer.

Photo by Wei-Te Wong / Flickr

Do note that Nara deer are considered wild animals, so it might be best to exercise caution around them.

Top photo by coniferconifer / Flickr and @nara_aigokai / Twitter


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