A deer in Japan’s famous Nara Park died with 3.2kg of plastic in its stomach

The female deer weighed approximately 30kg when it was found, 10kg below the healthy weight range, the Nara Deer Welfare Association said.
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Japan’s Nara Park is famous for its deer population, but a recent death is highlighting just how vulnerable animals are to tourist actions.

In March, the Nara Deer Welfare association found a “sickly looking” deer roaming near Todaiji temple in Nara Park. Although veterinarians tried to get the deer to eat, it refused and died the next day, Sora News reported.

An autopsy on March 27 revealed a large clump of hardened plastic weighing 3.2 kg in the deer’s stomach.

Rie Maruko, the veterinarian in charge of the autopsy, told The Asahi Shimbun: “Sometimes, garbage is found in the stomach of a weakened deer. However, it’s unusual to see such a large amount of it.”

“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,” Maruko added.

Deers belong to a category of animals called ruminants, meaning that food first enters their rumen – the first of four stomachs – where it is broken down.

The cud then returns from the deer’s stomach to its mouth and is chewed a second time to further break down the food for digestion.

In this case, the accumulation of plastic in its first stomach prevented the deer from ingesting new food and nutrients, leading to its death, Sora News said.

Citing the welfare association, The Asahi Shimbun reported that the female deer weighed approximately 30kg – 10kg below the healthy weight range – when it was found.

According to The Asahi Shimbun, the foundation will be conducting further investigations on the deer’s death with the help of a specialised institution.

In a blogpost that was translated by Sora News, the welfare association appealed  to visitors of Nara Park to be more careful of what they feed the deer.

Deers are only meant to be fed senbei crackers, which are sold by vendors in the park.

Written on March 28, the blogpost translated by Sora News said that deer are unable to distinguish between food and plastic, so when tourists carry plastic bags containing food, the deer’s sense of smell will lead them to believe that the bag is also edible.

The deer may also consume litter that is thrown on the ground, so visitors should carry their litter with them at all times.

To tackle the littering problem, the welfare association is also selling deer themed eco-friendly bags for ¥1,350 (S$17) at souvenir shops in Nara Park which can hold food and litter, Sora News reported.

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