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Sika deer are widespread in Japan, and readily become tame; at one time they were regarded as sacred. The largest wild populations are in the northern island of Hokkaido. Following Japanese settlement of Hokkaido in the latter half of the nineteenth century, the deer there were hunted almost to the point of extinction, and were reduced to a few small populations. Legal protection put in place in the mid twentieth century was followed by rapid population recovery from the 1950s to the 1980s. In the absence of the natural predators (wolves, now extinct in Japan), some hunting is now encouraged in order to stabilise the population and limit the agricultural damage done by the deer. The present Hokkaido deer population is still concentrated in the eastern half of the island, and many deer that frequent other parts of the island migrate back to this area during the winter months.
Deer are also present in the more populated islands of Japan: for example, in the ancient capital city of Nara, they wander at will among the temples, and are much photographed (and fed) by tourists. In other parts of Asia, the deer have also been extensively hunted, and legal protection has been less effective, so that several populations and subspecies are now endangered.
Sika deer have been introduced into a number of other countries including Australia, Austria, Denmark, Britain, France, Ireland, Jolo Island (south of the Philippines), New Zealand, Poland, Maryland, Morocco and the United States. In many cases they were originally introduced as ornamental animals in parkland, but establishing themselves in the wild.
In Britain several distinct wild populations now exist. Some of these are in isolated areas, for example on the island of Lundy, but others are contiguous with populations of the native Red Deer. Since the two species hybridise, this is a serious conservation concern.
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