Do you know the iriomote cat, a rare wildcat that lives only on Iriomote Island in Okinawa Prefecture in Japan?
The iriomote cat has a small population and is at risk of extinction, so it is designated as an endangered species and a special natural monument of Japan.
In fact, the iriomote wildcat has only been discovered for about 50 years, and it is still an animal with many mysteries.
Let’s take a peek at what characteristics and secrets iriomote cats have in this article!
～ Basic information. ～
Mammalia-Carnivora-Felidae-Leopard cat genus.
Iriomote cat is a wild cat of the Japanese subspecies that inhabits only Iriomote Island in Okinawa Prefecture. Its fur is light brown with dark brown spots all over its body, and it has distinctive white and black stripes on the back of its head to its forehead and around its eyes.
Iriomote cats are basically solitary and only males and females are together when mating. They breed around December to March and give birth and raise their children around April to June. By October to November, the children become independent. The gestation period is about 65 days, and it is thought that they give birth to one to three children at a time, but there are still many points that are not clear.
By the way, iriomote cats are said to be basically nocturnal, but they also seem to hunt and be active during the day.
Iriomote cat’s Q&A.
What is the origin of the name iriomote cat?
The name iriomote cat was given because it was discovered on Iriomote Island in Japan.
In fact, there was a proposal to name it “togawa wild cat” in honor of the animal writer Yukio Togawa, who discovered Iriomote yamaneko.
However, Mr. Togawa declined the proposal and named the yamaneko on Iriomote Island “iriomote cat” after the yamaneko “tsushima leopard cat” that inhabits another Japanese island (Tsushima Island).
The scientific name of the iriomote cat is “Prionailurus bengalensis iriomotensis”.
By the way, the Iriomote cat was discovered in 1965, and it was officially announced as a new species of animal in 1967.
Until then, iriomote cats were called by dialects (aliases) such as “yama pikarya” (things that glow in the mountains), “yamamaya” (cats in the mountains), and “me pikarya” (things that shine in the eyes).
Why do iriomote cats live there?
Iriomote cat is a wild cat with rare characteristics such as living only on Iriomote Island, a remote island in Okinawa Prefecture in Japan.It is said that they prefer places where various plants grow and water abundantly grows, such as mangrove forests, wetland forests, and coastal forests in the lowland part of the island at an altitude of 200m or less.
Iriomote Island has an area of about 284 ha and a circumference of about 130km, which is about half the size of Tokyo’s 23 wards.
Iriomote Island is a naturally rich island covered with virgin forests that cover 90% of the island’s area and is the second largest island in Okinawa Prefecture after Okinawa Island. However, it is not a large enough island for the wildcat, a carnivorous animal, to inhabit, and Iriomote Island is famous for being the smallest island in the world where wildcat (a member of the cat family) inhabit.
Considering the environment such as the area of Iriomote Island and the animals that inhabit it, it is estimated that there are only about 250 iriomote cats at most.
So why do iriomote cats live on such a small island?
It is thought that some wildcat that crossed over when Iriomote Island was connected to the continent about 200,000 years ago were left behind on Iriomote Island. Then, the wildcat adapted to the environment of Iriomote Island and evolved independently, resulting in the iriomote cat.
The iriomote cat is considered to be a very primitive wildcat and is sometimes called a “living fossil.”
By the way, it was thought to be an independent species for a while after its discovery, but now it is considered to be a subspecies of the leopard cat.
What does the iriomote cat eat?
Wild iriomote cats feed on mammals (black rats, ryukyu flying foxes, etc.), birds (white-breasted waterhens, northern boobooks, etc.), reptiles (okinawa tree lizards, sakishima odd-tooth snake, etc.), and amphibians (sakishima rice frogs, yaeyama harpist frogs, etc.).
They also catch and eat a variety of other animals such as fish, crustaceans (shrimp, crabs, etc.), and insects (grasshoppers, crickets, etc.).
Iriomote cats are known for not being afraid of water, which is unusual for cats. They are often seen jumping into rivers and streams to catch fish and crustaceans.
What is the difference between iriomote cats and domestic cats?
The first obvious difference is the shape and pattern of the ears.
The ears of the Iriomote cat are round, while those of the domestic cat are mostly triangular with pointed tips. Also, there is a white pattern called “ocelli” on the back of the Iriomote cat’s ears. This is a characteristic that is unique to wild cats and is not found in domestic cats.
Other differences include the shape of the tail and the size of the nose.
The tail of the iriomote cat is long and thick compared to that of the domestic cat. The iriomote cat uses this tail and its muscles to climb trees and hunt skillfully. Also, the nose is wider than that of the domestic cat and has a shape closer to that of a tiger or lion.
What kind of cry does the iriomote cat make?
Iriomote cat kittens chirp with cute voices such as “mew” similar to domestic cats, but adults meow and growl in a voice close to barking “gao”, which are quite thick.
However, wild iriomote cats rarely chirp, and they only chirp when they are threatening or during the breeding season. Therefore, even if you look for wild iriomote cats in the primeval forests of Iriomote Island, it is difficult to find them.
Is it true that there is a facility to protect iriomote cats?
The “Iriomote Wildlife Conservation Center” on Iriomote Island is a facility established by the Ministry of the Environment as an activity base to protect the precious wildlife of Iriomote Island, including iriomote wildcats.
At the Iriomote Wildlife Conservation Center, after protecting and treating injured or sick iriomote wildcats, they are engaged in activities to release them to the wild, and to deepen people’s interest in the nature, wildlife, and conservation of Iriomote Island.
Can iriomote cats be kept as pets?
When breeding rare animals at home, it is necessary to follow the established laws in some countries. This time, we will introduce whether it is possible to breed iriomote cats at home in Japan.
The iriomote cat is designated as a “Special Natural Monument” by Japan and is strictly protected.
In Japan, it is not possible to catch iriomote cat and keep them as pets. If you intentionally harm or kill an iriomote cat, it is a violation of the law and you may be subject to imprisonment or a fine.
If you find an injured or dead Iriomote cat on Iriomote Island, please contact the “Yamaneko Emergency Dial” of the Iriomote Wildlife Conservation Center and follow their instructions.
What is the lifespan of an iriomote cat?
The lifespan of the iriomote cat is not well understood, but it is believed to be less than 10 years in the wild or in captivity.
The oldest iriomote cat in captivity was a male named “W-48” or “Yon,” who was kept at the Iriomote Wildlife Conservation Center.
“Yon” was rescued after being hit by a car at about 5 months old and becoming unable to move. He was rehabilitated with the aim of returning to the wild, but he had residual effects from his injuries and was kept for life at the center for 14 years, 8 months, and 3 days.
While the average lifespan of an iriomote cat is believed to be less than 10 years, Yon lived until an estimated 15 years and 1 month old, making him a very long-lived individual.
Is there a place in Japan where I can see iriomote cats?
Due to the fact that iriomote cat is a very rare and valuable animal with a small population, as of 2021, it is not kept in facilities such as zoos.
Although there are few examples of iriomote cat being kept in captivity, a male and female captured in 1966 were kept at the home of zoologist Yoshinori Imamura for a short time from 1967. After that, they were kept at the home of Yukio Togawa for about two years. From 1969 to 1975, they were kept at the research department of the National Museum of Nature and Science in Ueno.
The male “Rio” that was bred at that time was changed to temporary taxidermy, and the female “Moko” was changed to this taxidermy and is still preserved at the National Museum of Nature and Science.
Also, at the Iriomote Wildlife Conservation Center, Iriomote cat that have been injured or sick and rescued are sometimes kept in captivity. However, this is only for the purpose of protecting them with the aim of returning them to the wild. It seems that Iriomote cat is not open to the public because it would be difficult if they become accustomed to humans.
By the way, at the Iriomote Wildlife Conservation Center, there is a stuffed Iriomote cat “Yon” that I mentioned earlier.
By the way, tsushima leopard cat, which inhabits Japan like Iriomote cat, is kept in several zoos such as Yokohama Zoo Zoorasia and Inokashira Natural Cultural Park.
What kind of enemies does the iriomote cat have?
It is said that the iriomote cat living on Iriomote Island has no natural enemies that can be called natural enemies. For the iriomote cat, which seems to have no enemies, the only and greatest enemy is us humans.
The iriomote cat is designated as a special natural monument and an endangered species and is strictly protected, but its population is believed to be declining. The main causes of the decline in the number of iriomote cats are environmental destruction and traffic accidents.
In Iriomote Island, primary forests and wetlands have been developed, and the places where iriomote cats can live and find food are decreasing. In addition, they are often victims of traffic accidents, and almost every year one or more iriomote cats become victims of traffic accidents.
Therefore, in Iriomote Island, the speed limit on roads is set at 40km, and “Beware of iriomote cats” signs are installed in places where they are often seen.
In addition, various measures are being taken, such as making the road surface bumpy with sound and vibration on some roads to alert iriomote cats to the presence of cars called “zebra zones”, and installing animal tunnels called “underpasses” under the road so that they can pass without crossing the road.
Iriomote Island still has rich nature and is a very attractive tourist destination with many wild animals.
When visiting Iriomote Island, it is important to be considerate of animals such as iriomote cats and crested serpent eagles and drive at the designated speed while paying attention.
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