The Sika Deer of Nara

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We finally got a chance to visit Nara Park and to observe up close, the over 1000 sika deer (Cervus nippon) that live in it. The park has 8 temples and is an ancient center of Shinto and Buddhism. The deer were once regarded as sacred, today they are just protected, and they roam freely through the park and temples, following tourists for food. They have completely lost their fear of humans and it is a unique experience to see so many and get so close to them. They are almost like dogs, and most the deer I approached, I was able to pet and observe close at hand. You can see in the photo above, park workers have cut their antlers to protect tourists from getting gored.

I grew up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula where the white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) is abundant. Due to loss of predators and improved food sources (farms, less forest) they have become a nuisance species as well. This has changed recently with the reintroduction of wolves. With more forest and predators, their numbers will decrease and hopefully the moose will increase to reflect the ecosystem pre European colonization.

I captured on video these two bucks, fighting over a female.

 

The specimen below still had the faint spots the species are known for. In most species, the spots fade in adulthood, but in many subspecies of Cervus nippon, the spots are visible as an adult.

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I wondered about the prevalence of Lyme disease with so many deer in tight quarters. Lyme disease is caused by the deer tick and I would think they are present. A friend of mine who works at my school has lyme disease, I’ll have to ask him where he thinks he got it. I couldn’t find anything online about it.

We enjoyed the experience and will return to the park, especially the surrounding forests to do some hiking when the weather improves. It makes a great day out.

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