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Iriomote Cat - Headed for Annihilation

 

The Iriomote Cats Facebeautiful Iriomote Cat resides solely on the Japanese island Iriomote-jima, located approximately 125 miles off the coast of Taiwan and is critically endangered. The cat was only discovered 40 years ago, yet it has lived for millennia on this small island (less than 200 square miles) and has evolved to suit the habitat and environment of this particular place. It was thought to be a member of an extinct line of cats with the genus Mayailurus. More recently, it was suggested that it should be grouped as a subspecies of leopard cat (Felis bengalensis), because of the discovery of the Tsushima cat, which inhabits the same area. The Tsushima cat is being classified as a subspecies of leopard cat. However, fossil remains that were unearthed on nearby island Miyakojima suggested that the Iriomote cat had been a separate species for at least 2 million years. Iriomote Cat on a rock

 

Being similar in size to a domestic cat, with legs that are short in comparison to body size, the Iriomote's coloration is dark brown with rows of darker brown spots running along its body. Often five to seven lines extend across its body. The ears are small and rounded, and have dark fur on the back with a white spot in the center. They have a very thick, bushy tail with dark rings banding it, and dark spots on its base.

 

Little is know of the lifestyle of this cat, although it is thought to be mainly terrestrial and to hunt by night. As with most wild cats, its diet is varied. Their small body size enables them to move quickly through the underbrush and successfully hunt small mammals, birds, insects and fish. Mating season is twice an year and pregnancy lasts two months after which a litter of one to four kittens is born.

 

Captive animals lose weight in winter and spend more time urine marking. This is seen as preparation for mating. They are more frequently seen in pairs in winter and often heard to vocalize. Males often fight. They meow and howl like domestic cats. Mating is believed to occur from February to March and September/October. After a gestation of about 60 days, two to four kittens are born in a den in a rock crevice or hollow tree. The kittens mature much more rapidly than domestic cats, being left on their own when they are about three months old.

 

In 1994 researchers estimated that only a few hundred cats remained, and an ongoing three year study suggests numbers have dwindled still further, as low as 100, due to traffic accidents and habitat loss. Any small, restricted population must be considered at risk and this coupled with the increased loss of habitat and growing competition from the islands feral cat population, can only serve to highlight the need for further research and increased conservation efforts. Other important threats include competition from a growing population of feral cats, and the risk of disease transmission from these and other imported mammals. Another issues is they appear to be breeding with feral cats, leading to dilution of their gene pool. Despite preservation of their territory on the island, the cats frequently stray out of the reserve area and are hunted/eaten as a delicacy!

 

This is another case of conflict between preserving a natural environment and economic development. Iriomote is the poorest region of Japan, and as a result locals are reluctant to sacrifice tourist income in order to preserve the island habitat. The cat is listed by the IUCN as Endangered.