9 deer in Japan’s Nara Park died from eating plastic bags between March & June 2019
The plastic found in the deer's stomachs likely originate from tourists offering snacks to the deer out of plastic bags.
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Japan’s Nara Park is a popular tourist destination, well-known for the over 1,000 free-roaming deer that can bow for biscuits.
However, it seems that the high levels of human activity might have been to the detriment of the deer.
Plastic likely from tourists
Nine deer in the park have died after swallowing plastic bags, The Washington Post reported on July 10, 2019.
The Nara Deer Preservation Foundation revealed that of the 14 deer that died since March, nine were found with tangled masses of plastic and snack packets inside their stomachs.
In late March, a sickly-looking deer died with 3.2 kg of plastic in its gut.
The heaviest mass of plastic discovered thus far weighed 4.3kg.
Deer usually feed on grass, but with plastic clogging their stomachs, they might ultimately die from malnutrition and weakened immune systems.
Tourists to the park are only allowed to feed the wild deer shika-senbei, special deer-friendly crackers that can be purchased from vendors in the area.
However, the plastic found in the deer’s stomachs likely originate from tourists offering snacks to the deer out of plastic bags.
As such, the deer come to associate these plastic bags with food, or are tempted by the smell from discarded packaging, which might have led them to accidentally ingest the materials, said veterinarian Rie Maruko,
Plans to step up preventive measures
Following the spate of deaths, Nara Prefectural Government intends to investigate the situation and ramp up preventive efforts, reported The Japan Times.
The government plans to put up illustrated signs warning visitors not to feed the deer anything other than the designated shika-senbei.
Meanwhile, members of the deer foundation regularly patrol the park to prevent the creatures from unintentionally swallowing discarded plastic items.
On July 10, a trash cleanup was carried out by the foundation members and volunteers to pick up litter and plastic bags in the park, as well as at the nearby Kasuga Grand Shrine and Kofuku Temple.
Top photo from coniferconifer / Flickr