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Iriomote Cat

Iriomote CatThe Iriomote cat was first described in 1967 by Dr. Imaizumi of the National Science Museum in Tokyo. He believed it was 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.

Zoological name: Prionailurus bengalensis iriomotensis

Species: Formally acknowledged only in the mid 1960’s, the Iriomote cat has been thought to be a subspecies of the leopard cat Prionailurus bengalensis rather than a species in its own right: Felis iriomotensis (Wozencraft 1993). Initially it had been placed in its own genus, Mayailurus iriomotensis.

Iriomote Cat Physical appearance: The Iriomote cat is similar in size to a domestic house cat, but has shorter legs and tail. Its 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. This serves as a signal, when the ears are laid flat the white spots show, which is a dead giveaway from a distance that the cat is mad, because mad cats flatten their ears. They have a very thick, bushy tail with dark rings banding it, and dark spots on its base.

Physical presence on the planet: The 292 square km island of Iriomotejima is at the southern end of the Japanese Ryukyu Islands, which are 200 km east of Taiwan (24° 15´-25´ north Latitude and 123° 40´-55´ east Longitude).

The island is mountainous and covered in broadleaf, evergreen, subtropical rainforest with dense mangroves along the estuaries. The highest mountain is only 470 metres.

Habitat: This endemic cat is found, near water, all over the island, including beaches and cultivated land. It only avoids the most heavily populated areas.

Diet: In one study 50% of the prey biomass was identified as mammalian in origin, with about 25% of the mass bird and 20% reptilian. In summer, the cat’s emphasis on mammalian prey seems to change, with more birds and reptiles taken. Numerically, insects are important, making up one third of the total numbers of items found in scats. 39 species of beetle have been identified in them. Iriomote cats are known to take fruit bats, black rats, wild pig, night herons, quails, rails, pigeons, doves, scops owls, kingfishers, robins, thrushes, crows, box turtles, skinks and amphibians. More than 95 species of animal have been identified from their faeces.

Reproduction & Offspring: 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 miaow 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.

Iriomote Cat Conservation status: The iriomote cat mainly inhabits the lowland coastal regions of the island which bring it into direct conflict with the islands human population. Recent estimates of the total number of iriomote cat have put the figure as low as 100 - 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. The cat is listed by the IUCN as Endangered.

Life span: 12 to 16 years
Wildness under threat!

The Iriomote cat is restricted to a single population. Iriomote is promoted as a tourist location, with the Iriomote cat a major source of appeal. The industry is still nascent, but plans are being laid for major resort development, along with a dam to provide the eight projected hotels with a stable supply of water. While poorly planned tourist infrastructure may damage the cat’s habitat, by far the major threat at present is agricultural and cattle-raising projects. Other important threats include road kills, competition from a growing population of feral cats, and the risk of disease transmission from these and other imported mammals.


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