National

Oh deer! Nara urges use of ‘deer sign language’ by tourists after more get bitten by hungry animals

AFP-JIJI

Faced with a growing number of injuries from deer bites, authorities in Nara Park have issued tips on feeding the hundreds of animals that attract tourists from around the world.

The picturesque park in the ancient capital is home to more than 1,000 Sika deer, which can even be found roaming the streets in search of special tasty crackers offered by tourists.

But their cute and calm demeanor can be deceptive and tourists can find themselves surrounded by aggressive animals when they try to feed them.

So authorities have erected a sign written in Chinese, English and Japanese entitled: “A polite request from the deer when feeding them” at the stalls where crackers are sold.

Small children should be accompanied by adults and “deer sign language” should be employed, showing both hands to the animals when feeding time is over.

“As they are wild animals, they get angry if people tease them,” Nara official Yuichiro Kitabata said.

“For example, if you keep them waiting when feeding, they can bite you . . . but not all tourists know they are wild, believing they are kept in the park,” he added.

The sprawling park that also includes wooden temples and shrines built centuries ago is a major tourist attraction, welcoming some 13 million visitors annually.

But with a rise in the number of foreign tourists, the number of those injured by deer surged to a record 180 in the last fiscal year to March from 118 the previous year, according to Kitabata.

The deer at the park — numbering on average about 1,200 — are protected as a national treasure.