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Starving for attention: Nara's famous deer hit the streets in search of food

A deer is seen searching for food in a shopping alley that is deserted due to the novel coronavirus outbreak on the night of April 1, 2020. (Mainichi/Yoshiyuki Hirakawa)

NARA -- Deer living in and around Nara Park in this Japanese ancient capital that are usually well-fed by tourists have been starving as the popular sightseeing spot is almost deserted now due to the novel coronavirus.

    A deer was seen searching through garbage bags in a shopping alley wet from the rain near the park one night at the beginning of April. The same deer has appeared there regularly since the virus started to spread, according to locals.

    The number of visitors to Nara has been sharply decreasing so sales of "Shika Senbei" cookies to give to the deer have also been declining. The main food source of these local deer is grass and fallen leaves. Shika Senbei, which is made from wheat and rice bran, serves as a snack. However, a saleswoman said, "I've been seeing many thin deer. Some of them have swelled abdomens so I wonder if they ate something they couldn't digest."

    According to an organization dedicated to protecting deer in Nara, the number of the animals that were taken into custody in urban areas or guided to the park by its members in February and March this year doubled from the same period in 2019.

    (Japanese original by Yoshiyuki Hirakawa, Osaka Photo Department)

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