Tuesday, February 26, 2008

New danger for the world's rarest cat

The least-known, most recently classified, and most endangered cat species in the world are, arguably, all the same creature - the Iriomote wildcat. Unknown to science until 1967, it inhabits one small and remote island of Japan. (There have been some taxonomic disputes resulting at least three suggested names, although Prionailurus iriomotensis seems to be the winner.)
Known locally as the "mountain cat," the housecat-sized feline is so successful in keeping to itself that there are lifelong residents of the island who doubt its existence. Nevertheless, a scientific survey, done over ten years ago, put the population on Iriomote at about 100. Now, experts fear, there are significantly fewer. About three cats a year are killed crossing the island's only major road, despite the building of wildlife underpasses and extraordinary efforts to warn drivers. The animal's habitat is increasingly encroached upon by tourists and residents, and feral domestic cats are known to pass diseases on to their wild relatives. The Japanese government has done much to protect the enigmatic cat, but it may not be enough.

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