Nara’s deer are believed to be messengers of the gods, but they might be losing part of their protected status.

When people hear “Nara,” the first thing that comes to mind is deer. Deer are said to be the messengers of the Shinto gods at Kasuga Shrine, which is located inside Nara Park, and so herds of deer are allowed to roam free through the park as well. Aside from their divine status, they’re also really cute, and totally accustomed to being around people, and so the deer have become both Nara’s most recognizable symbol and its biggest tourism draw.

Now, however, the Nara Prefectural government is considering increasing the limit on how many deer can be killed in Nara, and where.

Currently, in terms of deer territory, Nara is divided into three zones. Nara Park and its immediate surroundings are classified as the Protected Zone. Outside the Protected Zone is the Buffer Zone, and outside that is the Controlled Zone. Within the Protected Zone, deer can pretty much do whatever they want. In the Controlled Zone, though, up to 180 deer a year can be culled, for the purpose of preventing damage to local farms and other parts of the community caused by the animals.

Where things start to get complicated is the Buffer Zone. Deer that cause agricultural or other damage in this area are not killed, but instead are sent to a fenced living facility maintained by the Nara Deer Preservation Foundation, a non-government conservation group. The NDPF then cares for the deer, providing them with food, for the rest of their lives.

However, the Nara Prefectural government has been disappointed with what it’s seen in recent reviews of the facility, feeling that the animals are unhealthy and not sufficiently fed. They have asked the NDPF to improve the conditions, but with over 270 deer currently in the facility, the prefectural government apparently doesn’t feel that significant improvements and expanded capacity can be achieved in short order. Earlier this week, in a committee meeting at the prefectural capital, lawmakers announced that they are formally considering expanding the area in which deer can be culled by shrinking the Buffer Zone, as well as increasing the limit on the number of deer that can be killed each year.

The current limits will remain in place for the time being, but over the course of the coming year, administrators will be monitoring the situation, and if deemed necessary the expanded culling area and higher culling limit would go into effect next spring.

Source: Asahi Shimbun Digital
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