Nine deer have been found dead at a popular city wildlife park in western Japan after they swallowed plastic rubbish. The free-roaming animals became emaciated after gorging on plastic litter that filled their stomachs.
Japan's Nara Deer Preservation Foundation said on Wednesday that nine deer have died over three months, after swallowing plastic bags left by tourists.
The deaths were blamed on an increase in the number of visitors to the picturesque city, where deer have lived alongside humans for centuries and are protected as a national treasure.
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The foundation said that nine of the 14 deer found dead in parkland between March and June this year had large amounts of tangled plastic waste in their stomachs. One was found to have ingested as much as 4.3 kilograms (9.5 pounds) of the material.
Veterinarian Rie Maruko, who works with the group, told the Kyodo News agency that the dead deer were so skinny that he could feel their bones.
Some 1,200 deer live in the park in Nara which, as Japan's ancient capital, is a popular tourist location filled with wooden temples and shrines.
Deer, which are traditionally seen as messengers of the gods in Japan's native Shinto religion, are allowed to roam freely in the park and its surroundings, often being found in nearby shopping streets.
Tourists are allowed to feed the animals special sugar-free crackers that are sold in stores nearby.
Although the crackers aren't sold in plastic bags, visitors still carry them and some experts think the deer have come to associate the artificial packaging with food.
Last year, authorities in the park had to issue a warning to tourists feeding the animals to take care, after a growing number of people complained that they had been bitten by the creatures.
rc/jm (AFP, AP)