Nara Park in Nara Prefecture is famous for its 1,000-plus-strong shika (native deer) population. These deer, considered to be messengers of the gods, are a national treasure and a protected species within the city’s limits, due to their sacred connection to Nara’s Kasuga Taisha Shrine.
Because of their protected status, the deer are allowed to roam freely through Nara Park, and sometimes out on the city streets, where tourists delight in feeding them with senbei rice crackers, which are sold at stalls in the area. However, despite their sweet appearance, the deer are still wild animals, and year after year, hundreds of people are injured by them.
According to prefectural officials, these injuries are rising steadily by the year, with 121 documented cases in 2016, and 186 in 2017. Now, with the fiscal year yet to end on 31 March, 209 injuries have already been recorded for the period of 1 April 2018 through to 31 January 2019.
Nara Prefecture says this is the highest level of reported injuries on record, and the number of serious injuries have increased as well, with eight people suffering fractures, including hip fractures, this fiscal year. Five of the eight affected were tourists visiting from abroad.
Previously, a total of ten people suffered fractures throughout the entire eight years since record-keeping began, making this year’s number particularly alarming. Nara Prefecture says this year’s serious injuries occurred during the mating season of September to November.
While Nara Prefecture is currently doing what it can to control the number of deer with regular culling programs, officials are also increasing efforts to inform visitors of the possible dangers of interacting with the deer. Starting from December last year, the prefecture began distributing palm-sized information booklets, printed in various languages, to visitors.
The Nara Park Deer Advisory Centre, which conducts daily patrols of the park, are urging visitors to take care not to irritate the deer when feeding them. The vast majority of injuries, including bites and cases of being knocked over, occur when people hold out crackers to the deer and then take them back repeatedly, which can anger the animals.
So next time you’re in Nara, don’t forget to treat the animals with respect and bow politely when you feed them. Or you might want to time your visit to coincide with the Golden Week holidays, when the animals are so stuffed with crackers they’ll be more interested in dozing than attacking you.
Source: NHK via Hachima Kikou
Featured image: Flickr/pang yu liu
Insert images: Flickr/John Gillespie, Flickr/coniferconifer