This Japanese village is using plastic bags to save endangered wildlife

Nara has 18 rare and endangered mammals — from the kangaroo seal to the panda bear — on its front lawn, and it would like to save them all. Last year, at the invitation of Japan’s Agriculture Ministry, the village of only 16,000 residents began a trial of a new plastic bag that the local community hopes will help increase biodiversity and prevent the extinction of some of the country’s biggest and rarest animals.

While deer populations have increased significantly in the United States in recent years, there are fewer in Japan. Beginning in 1993, the International Union for Conservation of Nature placed the country’s 9,871 deer on its endangered species list. Some say that the deer’s is the only surviving human-level ecosystem ecosystem in the country, located in the middle of the Mochimi River valley on the outskirts of Nara.

As animals are moved off protected land, they often wind up near where farmers use fields of crops for their crops. Harvesting weeds has been a staple way of life for Japanese farmers for centuries. There has been no method developed for caring for wildlife without destroying crops, but there is hope this could change with the solution from the village.

“Farmers here have to harvest so they look for the old agricultural ways,” Kiyoshi Sugiyama, the village’s chief said in an interview with National Geographic. He had gone to Nara’s Agricultural University to try out a new, less invasive process that uses synthetic food dye to dye the black plastic bags that he feeds deer.

“After that, the deer will eat this bright and yellow color, so the deer will become more active and healthy,” Sugiyama said. “We believe by simply feeding the deer with these colorful plastic bags, we can boost their metabolism and health. That’s the primary target of our research.”

When the trial began in 2014, only 600 deer could feed on the bags in an initial period, after which farmers stopped the trial. The new bags are designed to only fall a half-inch in thickness.

“We hope to eventually use this recycled plastic bag instead of traditional feeders and obtain better results,” Sugiyama said.

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