Nara, Japan boasts the world’s largest bronze Buddha statue and the UNESCO World Heritage Site it is enshrined at, Todaiji Temple, but tourists may be equally enamored by the famous free-roaming deer that reside in the nearby Nara Park. At least 1,500 deer roam around the park, and have become the symbolic animal of the surrounding area (sometimes even regarded as messengers of Shinto deities).
While exploring the park or on their way to Todaiji Temple, many tourists purchase shika senbei (deer crackers) to feed the deer and get attention. Although many who have visited the park will readily inform you that you don’t need to buy them in order to be approached for food by the deer.
However, the deer’s dependence on snacks given to them by tourists has been impacted by recent response to concerns over the coronavirus outbreak. With many people avoiding large public gathering spaces such as parks, as well as a drop in tourism in general, the deer are now desperately traveling further away from the park in search of food.
The above Tweet shows a picture of deer that have traveled to Nara Station to find food. The poster says “I’ve lived here for 30 years, but this is the first time I’ve seen them travel 2 kilometers away from the park. Because there’s no tourists to give them crackers, they’re traveling far away fo breakfast. Please come to Nara and give them deer crackers!”
As they search for food, the deer are traveling in herd, wading into parking lots and even the middle of streets regardless of traffic.