Nine deer have died after swallowing plastic waste found throughout an idyllic park in western Japan.
The Nara Deer Preservation Foundation said that masses of plastic bags and snack packets were found in the stomachs of the deer.
The biggest mass of plastic found in one of the nine dead deer was 9.5lbs (4.3kg) and all the animals died between March and June this year.
The picturesque park in Japan’s ancient capital is home to more than 1,000 deer, and tourists can feed them special sugar-free crackers sold in nearby shops.
It is forbidden to feed them any food besides the crackers, but Ashimura said some visitors offer the animals other types of snacks.
‘The deer probably think that the snacks and the plastic packs covering them are both food,’ he said, adding the animals normally eat grass and acorns.
‘They might also eat plastic bags dropped on the ground,’ he said, adding that he believed such cases had increased recently ‘due to the growing number of visitors’.
‘The only way to prevent this is to remove all the garbage.’
Rie Maruko, a veterinarian who belongs to the animal conservation group, was quoted by Kyodo News as saying the dead deer were so skinny he could feel their bones.
Deer have four-chambered stomachs, and eating objects that cannot be digested can leave them malnourished and weakened.
Deer are traditionally a messenger of gods in Japan’s native Shinto religion, and they roam freely in the park in the capital city of Nara prefecture and are protected as a national treasure.
The number of tourists visiting Nara city where the park is located has increased in recent years, with 16 million visitors in 2017.
Volunteers participated in a cleanup campaign in the park on Wednesday.