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All of Iriomotejima island to become national park

The Yomiuri Shimbun, February 18, 2016

Iriomote cat

The Environment Ministry plans to expand the range of Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park to include the entirety of Iriomotejima island, a total of about 29,000 hectares, according to sources. The park currently comprises parts of Iriomotejima island and other areas in Okinawa Prefecture. The ministry will decide on the policy in its Central Environment Council soon and announce it in an official journal around late March.


Currently, one-third of Iriomotejima, or about 10,800 hectares, is designated as the national park. By expanding the area, the ministry intends to strengthen its protection of rare animals, including Iriomote wild cats (see below), an endangered species designated as a special natural treasure, and preserve the original ecosystem on Iriomotejima.

The government aims to have the Amami-Ryukyu region, including Iriometejima, registered as a UNESCO World Natural Heritage site. Making the whole island a national park is also meant to promote that effort, the sources said.
According to the ministry, the island’s special protection district will be expanded to about 4,600 hectares from the current about 1,800 hectares. Even taking home fallen leaves is prohibited in this area. The ministry also plans to designate about 14,600 hectares, or about half of the island, as a class 1 special district where building construction is not allowed in principle.

There are five grades of regulation in national parks’ land areas. Regulations are strictest in special protection districts, followed by class 1, class 2 and class 3 special districts. Regulations in ordinary districts are the most loosely enforced.

Iriomote wild cats are wild cats that live only on Iriomotejima island. Adults are about 60 centimeters long, weigh three to five kilograms and eat such animals as lizards, frogs and prawns. About 100 cats are estimated to live on Iriomotejima. They are designated as a class-1A endangered species, which faces the highest danger of extinction.

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Cat of the month

Borneo Bay Cat (Pardofelis Badia)

One of the world’s least-known and most endangered wild cats, the bay cat, has been photographed by Panthera grantees Jedediah Brodie (Universiti Malaysia Sabah/ University of British Columbia) and Anthony Giordano (S.P.E.C.I.E.S/Texas Tech University). Their photograph is the first record of this very elusive cat in the Borneo highlands, at 1460 meters (approximately 4,800 feet).

The records add to our very limited knowledge of the species, which was photographed alive for the first time only in 1998 and where most previous records are from dense lowland forest under 800 meters (approximately 2,600 feet).

Borneo’s bay cat is so elusive that it took over a century before researchers got a chance to study a live one in detail. Covered in striking, rust-red fur with white under the tail and face stripes, this cat was officially named in 1874 on the basis of a skull and torn skin sent to England by the famous naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace. Naturalists didn’t have a chance to study a live one until a bay cat was captured in 1992, and the cat remains so difficult to find that researchers know very little about how this secretive cat actually lives. The fact that the cat is so difficult to find is all the more frustrating because conservationists list the felid as endangered. The deforestation of Borneo may wipe out the bay cat before scientists get a chance to find out more about it.