Nara’s Deer Bowed Less Frequently during Pandemic

Courtesy of Nara Women’s University
Photos of a deer bowing

TOKYO (Jiji Press) — The Nara Park deer in Nara City bowed less frequently during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, likely due to a decline in tourists, a group of researchers at Nara Women’s University and Hokkaido University found.

The wild sika deer living in and around the park in Nara Prefecture, which total about 1,200 deer and are protected as a natural treasure, are famous for bowing to tourists for “deer crackers,” a snack sold at the park for the deer.

The group studied the number of deer that gathered at three locations, including Todaiji Temple’s Nandaimon gate, a hotspot for tourists giving deer the snack. The group also counted the number of deer bowing.

The study showed that the average number of deer that had shown up at the locations fell to 65 in 2020 from 167 in 2019, before the pandemic.

The average number of times a deer bowed to people when shown the deer cracker fell to 6.4 in June 2020-June 2021 from 10.2 in September 2016-January 2017.

The figure plunged to around 2.0 in July 2020, when the park experienced an especially large decline in the number of visitors.

The group found that the number of times a deer bowed fluctuated in tandem with the number of tourists.

“We had not expected the number of bows by deer to change in such a short period of time,” said Yoichi Yusa, professor of animal ecology at Nara Women’s University and a member of the group.