The Iconic Deer in Japan’s Nara Park Are Slowly Disappearing

A drop in tourists visiting the nature park due to COVID has caused the deer to venture further out for food.
August 21, 2020, 12:13pm
nara deer
In this picture taken on December 7, 2018 a tourist feeds a deer at Nara park in Nara.
Photo: Behrouz MEHRI / AFP

The city of Nara in Japan’s Nara prefecture, located south of Kyoto, is famous for its public park that is filled with friendly deer well-adapted to human visitors.

According to Visit Nara, there are almost 1,200 wild deer that roam the nature park, which spans over eight kilometers (five miles). The deer were once considered sacred and continue to be a protected species, though visitors can interact with the deer and feed them shika senbei (deer crackers).

The numbers of deer at the park have begun to dwindle as fewer tourists visit due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. It appears that without tourists feeding them, the deer have started venturing out further to look for food.

According to Japanese state broadcaster NHK, the number of deer in the park decreased by 30 percent in June compared to January of this year. It is believed that the other deer had traveled to nearby mountains to look for grass to eat instead. 

The Nara Deer Preservation Foundation announced on Monday, August 17, that they would be canceling the annual deer antler cutting ceremony, which is done to prevent deer from hurting each other as well as tourists.

While they may not be getting spoiled by tourists at present, the deer have been able to take in more time to relax. According to NHK, more deer were seen resting in June than they were in January as tourists piled in.

Hokkaido University Professor Tatsuzawa Shiro said in an interview with NHK that “as a result of fewer tourists, the deer are also learning how to ruminate. This can lead to better health of these deer.”

Recent Twitter videos indicate that there are still deer at the park, who are trying their best to stay cool during a major heatwave.

Bonus: Here’s a recent video of Nara deer running toward a man playing the French horn.