Japan Wants People to Use "Deer Sign Language" to Ward Off Biting Animals

The weird thing is, it works.

We can all get hangry from time to time, and deer are no exception. Deer may have a reputation for being mild-mannered, but some visitors to Nara Park in Japan have been unfortunate enough to see the aggressive side of these quiet creatures. Tourists can purchase crackers to feed the wild sika deer (Cervus nippon) that famously roam the grounds, usually without incident. But as the blooming cherry trees attract greater numbers of visitors to the park, authorities are urging would-be deer feeders to send the animals clear signals to avoid any mishaps.

Park officials have been advising visitors to use sign language that the deer can understand, holding both empty hands outstretched to show that there’s no more food, The Japan Times reported on Tuesday. Otherwise, they say, the deer may think you’re just holding out on them. After all, despite roaming the park’s grounds and seeming quite accustomed to humans, the roughly 1,200 deer are still wild animals.

In the United States, it’s generally recommended that you steer clear of wild deer, since they can be aggressive, especially during mating season or when their young are nearby. According to government officials in California, deer sign language can convey more than your lack of snacks: “If a doe does approach you, wave a coat, umbrella, or other object in the direction of the deer. Shout and make a loud noise to frighten the deer away while backing up.”

The sika deer at Nara Park can be quite friendly ... just don't screw around with them.

Flickr / JustTravellingSolo

In Japan, the problem is not so much that the deer are protecting their young; they’re just hungry and don’t like to be played. “As they are wild animals, they get angry if people tease them,” Nara official Yuichiro Kitabata tells Japan Times. “For example, if you keep them waiting when feeding, they can bite you … but not all tourists know they are wild, believing they are kept in the park.”

Visitors to Nara Park can get remarkably close to the deer.

Flickr / CMoravec

To help visitors understand what to expect from these wild animals, park officials put up signs in Japanese, English, and Chinese instructing people to quickly feed the deer so the animals don’t feel taunted.

Sika deer may be small, but Nara Park visitors can quickly find themselves overwhelmed by a crowd of hungry little dudes. And if you run out of food, they can get pissed. Japan Times reports that the most recent fiscal year saw deer cause a record 180 injuries, up from 118 the year before.

Visitors to Nara Park are warned not to provoke the deer.

Flickr / CMoravec

The 700-year-old park, which spans over 1,000 acres and contains several shrines and memorials, attracts about 13 million visitors each year. Considering the huge number of people who come through the park, 180 deer-related injuries isn’t that terrible. But if visitors use sign language to indicate that they’re all out of crackers, the deer might let that number fall a bit.

You may also like to watch this video of Japanese macaques humping sika deer.

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