There is an animal bleeding and suffering right in front of you. “It’s a wild animal, it’s just the way it is”!
It was mid-June when a YouTube video was posted and spread on social networking sites showing a fawn dying and the mother deer emaciated because of uterine prolapse during childbirth.
Some people said that the government had come to see the fawn once and then left, etc. While the Internet was full of people saying, “Poor thing,” “Someone should do something about it,” others pointed out that “Miyajima has too many deer, and there are circumstances that require a reduction,” and “It’s a wild animal, so it can’t be helped.”
In the end, the mother deer was treated as a wild animal, and although permission to transport and negotiations for medical treatment were difficult, and surgery was performed by a veterinarian in another prefecture eight days after she was found, she died.
The result was a very blurry picture, but was there really no way to save the deer? In the first place, we sometimes hear about the “difference in treatment,” such as “deer in Nara are big and fat, but those in Miyajima are skinny and scrawny,” but why does such a difference occur?
We interviewed Professor Yoshihiro Yamazaki of the Department of Economics, Faculty of Economics, Fukuoka University, who conducted a series of interviews with administrative and volunteer groups regarding the deer protection management administration on Miyajima and wrote a paper entitled “Considering the Administration’s Use of Experts: The Case of Miyajima’s Deer Protection Management Plan.
To understand the current situation, we must go back to the Miyajima Deer Protection and Management Plan formulated in 2008 by the town of Miyajima (now Hatsukaichi City in Hiroshima Prefecture).
Although the plan was revised once during the course of its development, the basic principles of the plan remained unchanged. The main content of the plan was to prohibit unregulated feeding of deer in order to prevent damage to deer and to establish a good symbiotic relationship between deer and humans.
Deer researchers and people from the Institute of Biology participated in the preparation of the plan, and the content was very balanced. Among other things, what I thought was most balanced was that if, as a result of stopping feeding, there were signs of decline, then planned feeding would be resumed.
But then, 10 years later, the planned feeding part was completely ignored.”
Conflicts, troubles the government and the local media were “untouchable.
Unable to see such a situation, an elderly couple living on the other side of the river started a volunteer program to bring in feed grains from all over the country and come across by ferry every weekend to feed the animals. On the other hand, some people began to object to the idea that such volunteer feeding was illegal, and some even called the police. Why did this trouble develop?
When you take a ferry across to Miyajima, there is a big sign that says, “Deer on Miyajima are wild animals. Please do not feed the deer to protect their lives.
I am also against this sign. I have seen many instances recently where the word “wild” is used as an exempt word.
Professor Yamazaki cited as an example the island of Aijima in Fukuoka Prefecture, which is now famous worldwide as a paradise for cats. In fact, Professor Yamazaki’s wife is the president of an NPO for the prevention of animal cruelty, and while observing the symbiosis between cats and humans together, she became aware of the deer problem on Miyajima.
An associate professor at a university told me, ‘Cats on the island are wild animals, and humans must not touch them.
By reading ‘wild’ as an animal that has no owner, it is a strange logic that humans are not allowed to touch. I think this is the cause of the greatest confusion and also the cause of the controversy over the deer issue on Miyajima.
It’s like, ‘It’s wild, so humans shouldn’t touch it. I feel sorry for them, but I don’t think that’s right.
Another point Professor Yamazaki made was a comparison with the deer management system in Nara Park.
There used to be a debate about whether or not Kasuga Taisha owns the deer in Nara Park.
Deer used to live in the area around the precincts of Kofukuji Temple and Kasuga Taisha Shrine, and the Kasuga Taisha declared that it would relinquish its ownership.
In the case of Nara, however, there was a general incorporated association, the Nara Deer Protection Association, which included the chief priest of Kasuga Taisha. The association has no ownership rights to the deer, but they have coexisted with humans throughout their long history and are a tourism resource, so everyone should look out for them.
On the other hand, on Miyajima, for some reason, the local media stopped reporting on the deer issue after Itsukushima Shrine said it did not own them, had nothing to do with them, and that they were not even sacred deer.
A Tragedy for Deer, Residents, and Tourists
The deer of Miyajima also have a deep connection with the deer faith, as the term “divine deer” appears in a document written in the Kamakura period (1185-1333), and there is no doubt that deer have coexisted with humans. ……
I believe that the interpretation that ‘an animal without an owner is wild’ is partly intentional, along with a misunderstanding,” he said.
If people are told that they shouldn’t feed the animals even if they are skinny, or that they shouldn’t touch them even if they are injured, the public will be like, ‘Oh, really?
However, this does not mean that unregulated feeding by tourists and local residents is a good thing. I have consistently urged the establishment of an incorporated association, similar to the one in Nara Park, to manage the deer systematically and to feed them in a planned manner.
The tragedy of Miyajima is a tragedy for the deer, the residents, and the tourists. However, the local government and volunteers failed to work together to establish a management system.
I have interviewed both sides, and I believe that the tragedy began with a minor button-matching in the beginning, which led to an emotional confrontation and split the group that wanted to protect it.
The government should establish a solid management framework and make the best use of it for tourism.
Incidentally, the number of Japanese deer is controlled by a hunting club, and research papers on deer have shown that they are basically starved.
For example, I talked to a deer researcher at Kinkazan, where winters are extremely severe.
On Miyajima, however, there is a situation where natural deaths are hard to come by. However, the problem is that the ‘increase’ is based on the visual observation of a non-expert, and it seems that no scientific survey of the deer population has ever been conducted to determine what the excess is in relation to.
When I ask the Hatsukaichi administration why they are banning feeding, they say, ‘Because it will decrease. But other studies have shown that when organisms are starving, they try to produce offspring, and if anything, the birth rate increases. So the arguments cross paths to nowhere.”
So what should have been done to save the deer this time?
If you call them ‘wild,’ they should be free to come to humans and treat their injuries as they would a raccoon dog or bird.
Wild” is essentially an animal that lives without being involved in human society. These children die unnoticed, without being seen by us. If they are injured and bleed to death in an unknown place, it has nothing to do with the problem of abuse in human society, but in the case of Miyajima, there are many tourists and residents, and there are elementary and junior high schools.
And yet, there are animals bleeding and suffering right in front of us, and it is not ‘wild’ that we have to leave them alone.
In the end, who is responsible? I think it is the government that failed to create the initial framework for management. The history of Miyajima over the past decade or so is that a management system similar to that of the Nara Park Deer Protection Society has not been formed at all, and we are still here today.
Professor Yamazaki suggests following the example of “Cat Island,” which has become a world-class tourist destination.
For example, feed the cats once a week in an appropriate amount from a biological standpoint. What about inviting tourists to join in as an opportunity to interact with the animals, since they will be fed at what time?
The patronage and management plan set up by the municipality’s management committee was originally very balanced, but it is now a skeleton. So, is it really okay to remain without proper management?
The issue of coexistence of wild animals is a story that every place has to deal with, but it is a waste to think from the viewpoint of only ‘reducing’ them because they are truly a resource, even if we exclude the emotional argument of feeling sorry for them.
Miyajima’s tourism income has been steadily declining. The reason for this is that most tourists do not stay overnight but take day trips. Then, as a stay-and-go type of tourism, we should launch the idea of “Let’s stay at a place where deer appear,” and invite tourists to participate in the feeding experience by setting a place and time for a part of the planned feeding. This should be very popular with Westerners.
Yoshihiro Yamazaki Professor, Fukuoka University (Faculty of Economics, Graduate School of Economics). He holds a B.A. in Economics from the University of Tokyo and a M.A. in Economics from the University of Tokyo. Author of many books, including “The Wisdom of Economics” and “An Amusing History of Economics” (published by Nakanishiya Shuppan) and “The Mystery of Money: Clarification from the New Coronavirus” (forthcoming, Chuokeizai-sha Inc.).
Interview and text by： Wakako Tago PHOTO： Afro