A couple of days ago, scrolling Instagram, I came across a photo. I stopped scrolling. Not because this photo was cute, funny or breathtaking, but disturbing, not gory, or horror movie disturbing… more of a “that’s not right” reaction. It was of a collection of deer sitting placidly around tourists. Everyone love deer, with their antlers, big gentle eyes and over all placid demeanour. That’s the kid in all of us, waiting to meet Bambi! Deer fascinate us because they are all at once, large and shy, gentle yet strong.
So getting back to the image, why was it disturbing? Because it is an unnatural behaviour, deer are flight animals (see below for an explanation of monocular vision). Even domesticated, flight animals, will rarely (most likely never) lay down at the feet of strangers. The deer in the photo had glazed over eyes, not alert inquiring eyes. This is especially important for animals with monocular vision because they are constantly scanning for potential threats.
Comments on the photo swung from the informed to the ill informed. Informed claims of “drugged animal” which would not be first instance we’ve heard of ‘wild animals’ being sedated for the benefit of a tourist attraction. To the typical ill informed “how peaceful”. If you spend time with animals, any animal, body language becomes your second language. Reading emotions through an animals eyes, is a part of your non verbal vocabulary.
Among the numerous Google Reviews of Nara Park, Japan…
“Deer are friendly but can get a little bit ‘pushy’ when you run out of food.”
Stands to reason, once you take away an animals natural instincts and teach it that humans are deer food vending machines…
Nara is one of the most famous deer attractions in the world. And the animals traditionally enjoy a protected status, however, with increased knowledge, and as our cognition grows, we need to question the need for these attractions. We must not normalise interactions with confined wild animals for children.
Visit this article for a history of the Nara Park by Joshu Mellin,
By the 1500s, thousands of deer roamed the city unchecked and revered. In this era, hunting the deer was punishable by death. Anyone who violated this decree had their property confiscated and their lineage cut off.While this sentence hasn’t been officially carried out since 1637, penalties remain. In 2010 a 40-year-old man was sentenced to 10 months in prison for killing a deer in the park with a crossbow.
As prey animals what kind of vision do deer have? See the Wide set eyes ? Prey animals have “Monocular vision is seeing with only one eye at a time. Seeing with both eyes is binocular vision. Animals with monocular vision can see a lot of area with that one eye – more than we can. This means they have an increased field of view, or area that is visible to the eye. The downside is, that animal will have more trouble figuring out the distance between themselves an object. In other words, it limits their depth perception, or the ability to judge spatial distance from one object to another.” (Source: study.com)
And a day after writing, this gem of an article comes along. Disturbing and so necessary “Wildlife tourism isn’t new, but social media is setting the industry ablaze, turning encounters with exotic animals into photo-driven bucket-list toppers. Activities once publicized mostly in guidebooks now are shared instantly with multitudes of people by selfie-taking backpackers, tour-bus travellers, and social media “influencers” through a tap on their phone screens.” Required reading before you head out on your next holiday in search of an adventure.