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Man arrested for allegedly killing 'sacred' deer in Nara

This photo shows a protected deer in Nara Park in the city of Nara on Feb. 21, 2021. (Mainichi/Hiroyuki Ota)

NARA -- The Nara Prefectural Police arrested a 23-year-old man on March 2 for allegedly killing one of the famous protected deer in this west Japan city.

    Hayato Yoshii, a steeplejack who lives in the Mie prefectural city of Matsusaka, was arrested on suspicion of violating the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties. He is suspected of killing a female deer presumed to be 11 years old by striking its head with a sharp blade in Nara Park in this ancient Japanese capital around Feb. 7.

    According to the police, Yoshii has admitted to the charge, saying: "While I was playing with deer in Nara Park, a deer suddenly slammed into my car, so I got angry. I slashed its head with an ax with all my might to kill it."

    Investigators said a male passerby made an emergency call at around 2:30 a.m. on Feb. 7, saying, "There's an injured deer here that's not moving." A police officer who rushed to the scene found a deer with a broken skull and a deep injury that reached its brain. Police said an examination of evidence including security camera footage identified Yoshii as the suspect.

    Deer in Nara have been protected as "sacred" since ancient times, and there was a period when anyone who killed one would be handed the death sentence. In a 2010 case in which a deer was killed with a crossbow arrow, a man and a woman were arrested, indicted and convicted by the Nara District Court.

    According to the Nara Deer Preservation Foundation, there were 1,286 deer in Nara Park in July 2020. The foundation's secretary-general Yoshitaka Ashimura said: "It's very disturbing. I wonder why a person would do such a thing."

    (Japanese original by Mizuki Hayashi and Yosuke Oyake, Nara Bureau)

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