Sunday

Amami Rabbit - A Living Fossil in Japan

The Amami Rabbit (Pentalagus furnessi; Amami: ʔosagi), or Amami no Kuro Usagi 奄美の黒兔 (, Amami no Kuro Usagi 奄美の黒兔?), also known as the Ryukyu Rabbit, is a primitive dark-furred rabbit which is only found in Amami Ōshima and Toku-no-Shima, two small islands between southern Kyūshū and Okinawa in Kagoshima Prefecture (but actually closer to Okinawa) in Japan. Often called a living fossil, the Amami Rabbit is a living remnant of ancient rabbits that once lived on the Asian mainland, where they died out, remaining only on the two small islands where they survive today.

The Amami Rabbit has short legs, a somewhat bulky body, rather large and curved claws, and is active at night. Its ears are also significantly smaller than those of other rabbits or hares. A forest-dweller, it apparently only has one (or sometimes two) young at once, which the mother digs a hole in the ground for them to hide in during the day. At night, the mother opens the entrance to the hole, while watching for predators (like venomous snakes), and then nurses its young, after which it closes the hole with dirt and plant material by thumping on it with its front paws. Amami Rabbits sleep during the day in hidden places, such as caves. Amami Rabbits are also noted for making calling noises, which sound something like the call of a pika; this makes them unique as most rabbits cannot make calling noises.

Unfortunately, the Amami Rabbit is endangered, because of hunting, which ended when Japan gave the rabbit legal protection in 1921, but also because of deforestation and killings by dogs, cats, and other animals introduced by humans, which continue today. In particular, mongooses released by island residents to kill poisonous snakes have killed a large number of Amami Rabbits. Deforestation is also very harmful to the rabbits, especially as they are asleep during daylight, and will often be killed without being able to flee.

In July 2008, the Amami Rangers for Nature Conservation Office (奄美自然保護官事務所) obtained a photograph of a feral cat carrying an Amami rabbit corpse (previously, other evidence, such as Amami rabbit bones and fur found in cat or dog droppings had already been found), prompting discussions on better ways to control pets.


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