Leopard cat found for 1st time in decades on Tsushima's lower island
NAGASAKI, Dec. 29 (AP) - (Kyodo)—A rare leopard cat has been found for the first time on the lower island of Tsushima, in Nagasaki Prefecture, directly confirming their existence there for the first time in more than two decades, conservation officers said Tuesday.
The highly protected Tsushima leopard cat, one of two species of wildcats found in Japan, was until recently feared to have completely disappeared from Tsushima's lower island, though as many as 150 are thought to still survive on its upper island.
Officers of the Tsushima Wildlife Conservation Center said the 1,130- gram juvenile, a male thought to have been born only last spring, was found in a weakened state Monday on the property of a company in Izuhara town by an employee who notified authorities.
Officials of the Tsushima Wildlife Conservation Center, established by the Environment Ministry to study the Tsushima leopard cat and assist in recovery of the critically endangered species, were summoned to the scene.
They said the rescued feline, apparently suffering from malnutrition, is currently being nursed back to health at the center.
Leopard cats leave their mother's home range 6 or 7 months after birth, at which time they must struggle to survive on their own.
The Tsushima leopard cat, which is about the same size as a domestic cat but can be distinguished by a white spot on the back of each ear, is thought to have arrived on Tsushima from the Asian continent about 100,000 years ago.
The 696-square-kilometer mountainous territory of some 40,000 people lies in the Korea Strait, only 49.5 kilometers off the Korean Peninsula and 138 km away from Kyushu Island. It separated into two main islands by artificial waterways.
Kamijima, Tsushima's larger and less populated upper island, is home to an estimated 80-110 of the small wildcats, down from an estimated 250-300 in the 1960s, conservation officers said.
But on Shimojima, the lower island, the last confirmed wildcat sighting was in March 2007 when an automatic camera took a photograph of one, confirming their existence there for the first time since 1984 when one was found dead along a road, they said.
Wildlife officer Shinsuke Mizusaki said the leopard cat's numbers have been declining throughout Tsushima mainly due to habitat loss and road kill. Since 1991, 42 of the wildcats have been killed on Kamijima roads, including one earlier this month.
To reverse the decline of the Tsushima leopard cat, which was designated by the Japanese government as a Natural Monument in 1971, it was declared a National Endangered Species in 1994 and a government-funded project was established to protect it.
The project involves field research, habitat restoration, captive breeding and public education about threats to the wildcats which also include diseases carried by domestic cats, illegal snare trapping and feral dogs.
In recent years, the Japanese government has been studying the feasibility of reintroducing wildcats to Shimojima.
The Tsushima leopard cat, which goes by the scientific name Prionailurus bengalensis euptilura, is regarded as an isolated subspecies of the leopard cat, found across Eurasia.
Japan's other wildcat species is the Iriomote cat, or Prionailurus iriomotensis, found on the island of Iriomote in southern Okinawa Prefecture.