Japan is looking into the use of deer-friendly bags in an effort to keep the country's famed Nara deer from eating plastic bags left behind by tourists at Nara Park. A group of locals have come up with a solution to replace plastic bags with a digestible type of paper bag made from rice bran. The proposed bags pose less of a health risk for Japan's treasured Nara deer that tend to eat them.

Nara, which is a small city and a former Japanese capital located in the south of Kyoto, has a growing population of Sika deer. There are more than 1,000 deer that freely roam the park and are protected by law.

Visitors are allowed to feed the deer, provided they only give them digestive and sugar-free deer crackers, also known as "shika sembei." These crackers are specially made for this purpose and do not come in plastic packaging. However, some park visitors are believed to be feeding the deer with other snacks. They then discard the food wrappers, leaving the scent of its former contents on the wrappers which the deer eat by mistake while foraging.

In 2019, more than 4kg of tangled up plastic litter and packets were found in the stomachs of several dead deer.

Local resident Takashi Nakamura, who runs a paper company, came up with the idea of rice bran bags. He worked together with two other Nara residents who helped develop the paper bags. The bags are to be made with the combination of recycled milk cartons and rice bran, which is the same material used to make the special deer crackers.

According to the BBC, tests on the bag were conducted by the Japan Food Research Laboratories and has declared the product safe for consumption. Each bag costs around 100 yen (£0.73) compared to a normal plastic bag which typically would cost about a few pence.

Around 3,500 paper bags have already been sold to six local companies including Nara's tourism bureau, a local pharmacy, as well as a local bank. The Nara Chuo Shinkin Bank has been giving the bags to clients to help them carry documents which has become quite a popular conversation topic among local residents.

Snow monkey on sika deer
Video captured by the researchers. Snow monkey on sika deer Youtube