Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

9 Nara Deer Found Dead After Eating Plastic in Sacred Japanese Sanctuary

Animals
9 Nara Deer Found Dead After Eating Plastic in Sacred Japanese Sanctuary
A woman feeds deer in Nara, Japan. Drazen_ / iStock / Getty Images Plus

The global plastic crisis has invaded a sacred sanctuary in Japan. Nine deer in Nara Park that have died since March were revealed to have massive amounts of plastic bags and food wrappers in their digestive tract.


Three of the nine deaths were attributed directly to digestive issues from eating the plastic, said Yoshitaka Ashimura, secretary general of the conservation group Nara Deer Preservation Foundation, as CNN reported. In one deer, researchers from the conservation group found 9.5 pounds of plastic in its digestive system, according to Newsweek.

In March, the group posted a photo of 7 pounds of plastic pulled from another deer's stomach.

Nara Park, just east of Osaka, is a Unesco World Heritage Sight and home to over 1,000 Sika deer, which have been classified as a national treasure and are, therefore, protected by law. Those legal protections have tamed the deer that roam the park freely without fear of predators. Visitors to the park are allowed to feed the deer with digestive and sugar-free deer crackers, known locally as shika sembei, which are sold in nearby shops and do not have plastic wrapping, according to Japan Today.

Yet, some visitors will feed the deer other treats, prompting local authorities to ask people to stop offering unauthorized snacks, as Newsweek reported.

The deer eat plastic after watching tourists take food out from bags and wrappers, said Rie Maruko, a veterinarian with the Nara Deer Preservation Foundation, as Japan Today reported. He added that the deer learn that bags contain food and they are tempted by the scents coming off discarded food packaging.

Deer are ruminants with a four-chambered stomach that allows them to digest grasses and derive their nutrition from it. When the first chamber fills with non-digestible items, like plastic, they are not able to regurgitate, digest or ingest new food. Unable to digest, the animal weakens and withers away until it finally dies.

"The deer that died were very skinny and I was able to feel their bones," Maruko said, according to Japan Today. "Please do not feed them anything other than the designated shika sembei."

The Nara Deer Preservation Foundation has upped its efforts to warn tourists about the dangers of bringing plastic bags and food wrappers into the park. Additionally, new signs posted in several languages this spring show people how to feed the deer, but they have not been effective in reducing plastic waste, said Ashimura, as CNN reported. The local government said it will take additional steps to protect the deer.

The conservation group launched a cleanup campaign on Wednesday. More than 100 volunteers collected over 116 pounds of trash around the park. Sixty percent of it was plastic.

"The amount of plastic garbage we collected was over our expectation," Ashimura said, as CNN reported. "We are concerned that a mere clean up won't solve the issue. It's important that the visitors won't throw them away to begin with to protect deer."

Plastic bails, left, and aluminum bails, right, are photographed at the Green Waste material recovery facility on Thursday, March 28, 2019, in San Jose, California. Aric Crabb / Digital First Media / Bay Area News via Getty Images

By Courtney Lindwall

Coined in the 1970s, the classic Earth Day mantra "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" has encouraged consumers to take stock of the materials they buy, use, and often quickly pitch — all in the name of curbing pollution and saving the earth's resources. Most of us listened, or lord knows we tried. We've carried totes and refused straws and dutifully rinsed yogurt cartons before placing them in the appropriately marked bins. And yet, nearly half a century later, the United States still produces more than 35 million tons of plastic annually, and sends more and more of it into our oceans, lakes, soils, and bodies.

Read More Show Less
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Rise and Resist activist group marched together to demand climate and racial justice. Steve Sanchez / Pacific Press / LightRocket / Getty Images

By Alexandria Villaseñor

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.

My journey to becoming an activist began in late 2018. During a trip to California to visit family, the Camp Fire broke out. At the time, it was the most devastating and destructive wildfire in California history. Thousands of acres and structures burned, and many lives were lost. Since then, California's wildfires have accelerated: This past year, we saw the first-ever "gigafire," and by the end of 2020, more than four million acres had burned.

Read More Show Less
Trending
U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced a pair of climate-related secretarial orders on Friday, April 16. U.S. Department of the Interior

By Jessica Corbett

As the Biden administration reviews the U.S. government's federal fossil fuels program and faces pressure to block any new dirty energy development, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland won praise from environmentalists on Friday for issuing a pair of climate-related secretarial orders.

Read More Show Less
David Attenborough narrates "The Year Earth Changed," premiering globally April 16 on Apple TV+. Apple

Next week marks the second Earth Day of the coronavirus pandemic. While a year of lockdowns and travel restrictions has limited our ability to explore the natural world and gather with others for its defense, it is still possible to experience the wonder and inspiration from the safety of your home.

Read More Show Less

By Michael Svoboda

For April's bookshelf we take a cue from Earth Day and step back to look at the bigger picture. It wasn't climate change that motivated people to attend the teach-ins and protests that marked that first observance in 1970; it was pollution, the destruction of wild lands and habitats, and the consequent deaths of species.

Read More Show Less