Police say the man lost his temper when the animal hit his car. 

Nara Park in Nara Prefecture is home to over 1,200 deer, with the animals being allowed to roam freely in the area due to their sacred connection to nearby Kasuga Taisha Shrine.

Considered to be messengers of the gods, the deer are officially recognised as a special national natural treasure by the government and are protected under the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties, with heavy penalties for anyone caught harming the animals.

The deer are widely loved by locals and tourists, so it’s rare for penalties to be handed down, but this week a man was arrested by police after a deer was found fatally injured at the park.

Local police say a passerby alerted them to the wounded animal at around 2:30 a.m. on 7 February, and upon checking surveillance camera footage they were able to track down the suspect, Yoshii Hayato, a 23-year-old construction worker from Mie Prefecture.

According to investigators, Hayato confessed to the crime, saying:

“When I was playing with one of the deer it suddenly hit my car so I got mad and decided to kill it, slashing at its head as hard as I could with an axe.”

Hayato is said to have attacked the deer at approximately 2:00 a.m. on 7 February. The female deer was estimated to be about 11 years old.

Sadly, this isn’t the first time an arrest for violating the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties has been made in relation to the animals. In 2010 a man and woman received jail sentences for killing a deer in the park with a crossbow, saying they hoped they could sell the meat for a high price as they were struggling financially.

The deer at Nara are generally friendly and unafraid of humans, sharing pedestrian crossings with visitors in the vicinity of the park and bowing to tourists in return for senbei rice crackers. The Nara Deer Preservation Foundation, which helps to care for the wild herds, has expressed its disbelief at the recent incident, with Secretary-General Yoshitaka Ashimura saying he hopes such violence against the animals never occurs again.

Sources: Kyodo, NHK via Hachima Kikou
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