Why you should be extra careful when feeding deer in Japan

What you need to know before feeding these furry, four-legged friends in Japan. Source: Shutterstock.

LOCATED at the foot of Mount Wakakusa in Nara, Japan, Nara Park is one of the oldest parks in the country.

The sprawling, picturesque park has been designated as one of the “Places of Scenic Beauty” by the country’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology – and it’s easy to see why.

It is home to the grounds of the Nara National Museum, Tōdai-ji, Kōfuku-ji, and Kasuga Shrine, as well as more than 1,200 species of plants and over 1,200 wild sika deer.

In fact, Nara Park became such a symbolic and a popular tourist destination because of its herds of freely-roaming deer, considered in Shinto to be messengers of the gods and therefore, sacred.

Deer crackers are for sale around the park as tourists often flock to the area to feed the animals and take pictures with them. The furry four-legged friends, which are surprisingly tame, have grown so accustomed to being fed by humans that some deer have even learned how to bow to ask to be fed.

Clearly, they are loved by both locals and tourists alike. However, they can be aggressive if they think you will feed them.

Source: Shutterstock.

In 2017, a record 180 cases of those injured by deer were reported and 138 of the injured were foreigners. Most of the injuries were minor, with tourists having their hands bitten lightly while feeding the animals.

Prefectural government official Yuichiro Kitabata blamed tourists’ increasing eagerness to stage good pictures with the deer.

“According to Kitabata, many tourists lure the deer with shika senbei (deer crackers), which are sold in Nara Park. But once the deer approach the tourists hide the snack, making the animals wait as they try to snap the perfect shot. And that makes for some irritated deer,” The Japan Times wrote.

More recently, Soranews24 reported a increase in the number of people who have gotten injured after interacting with deer in Nara Park. There were as many as 209 cases from April 2018 until Jan 31, 2019.

Nara Park’s management has confirmed that this is the highest number of injuries recorded. Visitors had suffered from hip fractures and bites, and this occured especially during the deer mating season from September to November.

Source: Shutterstock.

As such, the Nara Park Deer Advisory Centre has issued a notice to people not to tease or infuriate deer when feeding them. For example, visitors should practice feeding deer properly and not take back the treat, which will trigger the animal to react aggressively.

The management will also be handing out palm-sized booklets to educate visitors.

Here are some other tips to help you have a safer deer-feeding experience:

  • If you are driving in the vicinity of Nara Park, please do so with great caution as the deer are known to jump out.
  • Small children should be accompanied by adults and “deer sign language” (showing both hands to the animals when feeding time is over) should be employed.
  • The deer cannot digest human food so just stick to feeding them deer crackers.
  • Be gentle with the deer and never, ever chase them lest they retaliate and land a kick on you.
  • Got trash on you, such as paper wrappers and plastic bags? Do not feed it to the deer.