ANIMALS AND ENDANGERED ANIMALS IN JAPAN
Iriomote wildcat The entire archipelago of Japan was declared a Biodiversity Hot Spot in 2005 because it is rich in unique animal and plant life and because this unique animal and plant life is threatened by the encroachment of people.
Japan’s great biodiversity can be attributed to: 1) the fact that Japan is comprised of many islands, which often have their own unique self-contained ecosystems; 2) the islands stretch over a wide variety of climates, with different species often living in each climate zone; and 3) Japan’s links to the Asia and the mainland were via three diverse regions: a) Siberia, b) Korea and China, and c) a chain of islands that leads to Taiwan and Southeast Asia.
Through the Edo period (1603-1868) the hunting of animals and birds was strictly controlled and wild animals prospered. During the Meiji period, beginning in 1868, the controls were lifted and wild animals suffered. Some became extinct. These days Japan seems to be making up for years of environmental neglect with a newfound concerns for nature and animals.
Man-made environments are sometimes almost as rich in wildlife as natural ones. Japan’s rice paddies have their own ecosystems. Dragon flies and frogs , for example, thrive in the paddies and irrigation ditches and provide food for large animals such as birds and fish.
Websites and Resources
Animals in Japan: Animal Info animalinfo.org/country/japan ;Japan Animals Blog /japan-animals.blogspot.com ; Hub Pages on Wild Animals in Japan hubpages.com/hub/japanfacts ; ARKive (do a Search for Japan or the Animal Species You Want) arkive.org Animal Picture Archives (do a Search for the Animal Species You Want) animalpicturesarchive Endangered Animals in Japan: Animal Info animalinfo.org/country/japan ; List of Extinct Animals env.go.jp/en/nature ;Iriomote Cat tigerhomes.org/wild-cats/wc-iriomote-cat ; National Geographic on the Iriomote Cat nationalgeographic.com ; Animal Info on the Amami Rabbit animalinfo.org ; Edge of Existence on the Amami Rabbit edgeofexistence.org ; Extinction of the Japanese Wolf wolfsongalaska.org/Wolves_Japan Dinosaurs Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum dinosaur.pref.fukui.jp ; Dino Paradise dino-paradise.com ; Fossil World watacchi.com
Links in this Website: ANIMALS AND ENDANGERED ANIMALS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; ALIEN ANIMALS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; BEARS, DEER, SEROW AND WILD BOARS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; TANUKIS, FLYING SQUIRRELS, SMALL MAMMALS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; SNOW MONKEYS (JAPANESE MACAQUES) Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; EAGLES, SWANS, CROWS AND BIRDS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE CRANES Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; IBISES AND CORMORANTS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; SNAKES, FROGS, LIZARDS AND TURTLES IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; BEETLES, LAND CRABS AND INSECTS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; PLANTS AND FORESTS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; GIANT SQUIDS, SHARKS , THE SEA AND JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; WHALES, WHALING AND DOLPHIN HUNTS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; PETS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; EXOTIC PETS, BIRD FIGHTS AND BEETLES IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; DOGS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; DOG BREEDS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan
Dinosaurs in Japan
Fukuiraptor Relatively few dinosaur bones have been found in Japan. Those that have been found have been found in Hyogo, Hokkaido, Fukui, Mie, Kumamoto and Fukushima Prefecture,
Among the dinosaur species found in Japan were the Spinosaurus, a Tyrannosaurus-like carnivore that was 17 meters long and weighed six tons. A Spinosaurus was featured in the film Jurassic Park III.
The largest known dinosaurs that lived in Japan were Brontosaurus-like, herbivorous sauropods with names like tanbaryu and mamenchisaurus . The mamenchisaurus (titanosaurus) is thought to be the largest and one of the oldest dinosaurs that lived in Japan. It lived 120 million years ago and reached a length of 20 meters. Fossils of these creatures have been found in Katsuyama, Fukui Prefecture.
Tanburyu fossils been found in the in the Tanba area of Hyogo Prefecture. Other saurpod fossils have been found in Mie Prefecture. A number of fossils, including those belonging to the titanosaur family, have been found in 140-million- to 120-million-year-old Cretaceous period sediments in the Tanba area.
Fukuisaurus An 85 million-year-old skull of a 7-meter-long, duck-billed, herbivorous dinosaur known as hadrosaurus was found in the a mountains in Mifunemachi, Kumamoto Prefecture in 2004. Most hadrosaurus fossils have been found in North America and Asia.
The oldest mammal fossils found in Japan have been dated to 136 million to 140 million year ago. They came from three small shrew-like species found near Kobe in Hyogo Prefecture.
Ancient Animals in Japan
Japan is close to the Asian mainland. Over the millennia, Japan has periodically been connected to Asia, allowing animals to pass back and forth between the two regions. During other peirods Japan was separate and isolated, allowing unique species and subspecies to evolve.
Animals such as black bears, wild boar and serow that are not found in Hokkaido are believed to have traveled from the Korean peninsula to Honshu and Kyushu. Animals native to Hokkaido are believed to have arrived from Siberia. There were elephants living in the Tokyo area as little as 12,000 years ago.
Bears, foxes and tanukis found in Japan are essentially the same as those found on the Asian mainland. Japanese macaques (snow monkeys) are indigenous to Japan. Some species such as the Amami rabbit are found on only a couple of small islands.
In prehistoric times wooly mammoths, brown bears and flying squirrels entered Japan from Siberia; giant elks and grasslands elephants, snow monkeys and black bears came from Korea and China and rare frogs and rabbits came from Southeast Asia. Many of them arrived when sea levels dropped and Japan was connected to mainland by land bridges.
Wooly Mammoths and Japan
The Japanese are fascinated with wooly mammoths. Well-preserved ones that have been found in Siberia are often brought to Japan to be studied or displayed. A frozen mammoth foot and other mammoth body parts were displayed at the 2005 World exposition in Aichi and were seen by millions of Japanese.
A frozen 1.2-meter-long, 50-kilogram baby mammoth, named Lyuba, dug up Siberia in May 2007, was seen by tens of thousand when it was displayed in Tokyo. This mammoth though to be a 6-month-old female lived 37,000 years ago and was found almost perfectly preserved in the permafrost. Ludya is so well preserved body hair on its front legs, body wrinkles and even its eyelids were intact. Naoki Suzuki, the director of the Institute for High Dimensional Medical Imaging conducted 3-D mapping of the mammoth.
Reproducing a Wooly Mammoth, See Science
Animal Habitats in Japan
Hokkaido wilderness Most native animal species such as bears, wild boars, tanukis, and badgers are adapted for life in the forest. These days you see very few wild animals in Japan. The forests are almost devoid of life.
Many animals in Japan have adapted to paddy agriculture. Among the forms of wildlife that thrived in rice paddies until chemical pesticides and fertilizers became widely used were egrets, herons, cranes, storks, ibises, frogs, snakes, fish, snails, clams. dragonflies, aquatic insects, shrimp, crabs and shrimp,
The modernization of rice paddy agriculture has made the paddies less accommodating to animals. Things like the replacement of open canals with underground drainage pipes and periodic draining of the paddies have made the paddies easier for farmers to work but have taken away the water that the animals need to live.
Animal as Pests in Japan
Reports of crop damage by animals such as raccoons, wild boars, deer, civets and bears is often tied with shortages of wild nuts and other food eaten by the animals in the wild.
Netting and fencing have been set up in some parks and reserves to protect rare plants from foraging deer and other animals.
In 2008, local governments began obtaining hunting license for some of their employees so they could help cull monkeys, bears, wild boars and other animals that raid crops and cause other problems because not enough hunters could be found.
See Monkeys, Wild Boars, Bears
Zoo Animals in Japan
In June 2008, a zookeeper was killed by a 150-kilograms Siberian tiger weighing 150 kilograms while cleaning the animal’s cage. The zookeeper lured the tiger from his cage with a chicken and entered the cage to clean it with the tiger entering through a door that the zookeeper failed to firmly close The zookeeper sustained injures to his face, head, neck and hands. The tiger had bloodstains in its mouth. The zoo was closed down after the incident.
In November 2008, two polar bear sent from a zoo in Sapporo to a zoos elsewhere in Hokkaido to impregnate a female polar bears were discovered to be females.
Rare amur leopards have been bred in captivity at the Hiroshima City Asia Zoo. Rare snow leopards have been bred in captivity in Japan.
An elephant has never been born in a Japanese zoo. But this not for a lack of trying. The drought is blamed on the shortage of space and partners.
Zoo elephants are rented from Thailand for about $10,000 a year. Because food is so expensive in Japan the cost of feeding an elephant is around $600 a day.
The Japanese firm Michi Corporation produce paper made from elephant dung from Sri Lanka and use proceeds made from the paper to help elephants in Sri Lanka.
Pandas in Japan
Ueno Zoo’s panda Ling Ling died at the age of 22 in May 2008. The zoo had had pandas since 1972 when a pair of pandas was given to the zoo by China. China said it would loan the zoo a pair of pandas.
Japanese-born panda Rauhin gave birth to two twin cubs at Adventure World in Shirahamacho Wakayama in September 2008. She was the first Japanese-born panda to successfully give birth. Rauhin was born in the same place in September 2000. She was mated with a panda on loan from China.
Meimei, a panda at Adventure World in Wakayama, gave birth to 10 cubs in Japan and China. She died in October 2008 at the age of 14.
The Red Data Book, a guide of endangered animals, lists 370 endangered species in Japan. Japan founded an environmental agency in 1971 but took 20 years to put together an endangered animal list. As of this time 47 animals have become extinct in Japan and another 303 are in the danger of extinction.
Some species of plants and animals have been designated as “natural monuments,” cultural assets of the people protected by special laws that make destroying them a crime. Among the 200 species that rank as monuments are red-crowned cranes, Blakiston fish-owls, and goatlike serows. But while such designations protect the animals protection of their habits is often overlooked or neglected.
Japan’s first national parks were created in 1934 not for the benefit of wildlife but to provide recreational areas for visitors and money for local people. Today Japan’s national parks and quasi national parks are administered by the Ministry of the Environment whose mandate is to secure “the coexistence of people and nature.” According to ministry literature the management of parks “requires consideration of people’s property rights and various industrial activities in the areas concerned.”
Rare Animals on Islands Around Okinawa
Amami rabbit The Ryukyu Islands (Okinawa Prefecture) and the Satsuna Islands of Kagoshima Prefecture—a chain of 200 islands stretching for 1,000 kilometers between Kyushu and Taiwan—are especially rich in unique plants and animals. The number of plant species per unit area is 45 times greater than the rest of Japan due to the way species can evolve independently—separated from other species—on islands.
There are two large gaps in the Ryukyu Island chain: 1) the northern gap between Yakushima and Amami islands; and 2) a southern gap between the islands of Miyako and Okinawa. The plants and animals in either side of theses gaps tend to be very different form those on the other side. On the northen side of the northen gap, located in the Tokara Strait—and called the Watase Line after early 20th century biologist Shozaburo Watase—the plants and animals are virtually the same as those found in Kyushu and the other main islands of Japan while those south of the gap are markedly different. Similarly the islands south of Okinawa near Taiwan have many animals and plants similar to those in Taiwan because when sea levels dropped during ice ages many were connected to Taiwan and the Asian mainland.
Extinct or Near-Extinct Animals in Japan
Japanese river otter The Japanese otter is one of Japan's most endangered animals. The last recorded sighting of one occurred in a river in Susaki, Kochi prefecture in 1979. Once common even around Tokyo, Japanese otters were fond of eating shrimp, crabs and fish. Their probable extinction is attributed fishing nets, crab keels and the concreting of riverbanks where they made their homes.
Tufted puffins were once found all over Hokkaido. Now they have largely disappeared from the area because of fishing nets that ringed much of Hokkaido and strangled the birds. The short-tailed albatross has been nearly hunted to extinction. So too with the ezo-kuroten sable, a species native to Hokkaido.
The Japanese sea lion is now extinct. The last one was seen on a Korean settlement on the island of Takeshima after the Korean War.
Mikado-chozame sturgeon, a species of sturgeon believed to have become extinct in rivers in Japan, has been bred in captivity by scientist at Hokkaido University. The achievement not only is good for the species and returning them to the wild but is also for people who want to raise the fish for caviar. Only a few of the fish exist in the wild on Sakhalin Island in Russia.
There have been calls for the protection and breeding of rare species but funding for such initiatives has been minimal. The Bon fruit bat is the only mammal native to the Ogasawara Islands. In 2009 a special 14 hectare protection zone was set up for the endangered species. The islands have many unique species of land snails.
Iriomote cats have been designated an endangered species. Only about 100 are believed to be left, all of them living on 282-square-mile Iriomote island in Okinawa. They are one of the world's most endangered cats and were only discovered in 1965 and confirmed as a unique species in 1967. Even so they closely resembles cats that lived three million years ago and is thought have developed from mainland Asia’s leopard cat.
Iriomote cats are solitary, nocturnal animals. About the size of house cats, they are dark, mottled brown in colored and have a rounded club-like tail. They eat lizards, fruit bats, birds, snakes, crabs, fish and insects and are equally comfortable in forests, in the trees or on the beach. They prefer coastal regions and areas around streams and rivers. The make dens and give birth in the hollows of large tree trunks and usually don’t eat like many cats do by holding their prey with their fore paws, an adaption that seems to have come from spending a lot of time in trees.
Iriomote cats typically breed in February and March and again in September and October. Males typically roam a territory of two or three square kilometers while females move in area of one square kilometer. Females typically give birth to four kittens. There dens are typically six feet off the ground.
Iriomote cats look a lot like house cats and were at one time eaten as a delicacy. They are threatened by loss of habitat, accidental trapping in crab traps, stray dogs, and inbreeding with domestic cats and competition and diseases from domestic cats. About one or two cats die every year from being run over by cars. Counting cats is done with photo traps.
In 2007 Iriomote cats were moved from the endangered list to the critically endangered list. To help Iriomote cats survive the Japanese government has made one third of Iriomote island into a national park aimed at protecting the cat. Some would like to see development such as dams and roads banned to protect the cats even further.
Effort to protect Iriomote cats include raising awareness by putting images of the cat on everything from buses to coffee mugs and putting up signs to ask drivers to drive slowly and keep a watch out for the cats. There is a 24 hour hot line for reports of cats hurt in road accident and rehabilitation center for injured cats. Despite the fact that few people have actually ever seen an Iriomote cat, the cat has helped draw 700,000 tourists to island, a 14-fold increase from the 1970s.
The tsushima yamaneko is a wildcat indigenous to Tsushima Island in Nagasaki Prefecture. It has a pale yellow body marked by leopard-like patterns, weighs three to five kilograms and is 50 to 60 centimeters from the tips of its tail to its nose. There numbers of decimated by loss of habitat die to development and struck by vehicles. There are believed to be to be only 80 to 110 left in the wild. A few more are in zoos,. A captive breeding program at the Fukuoka Zoo in Fukuoka had managed to produce a couple of offspring.
the fate of many
Amami rabbits The Amami rabbit is found only on two small southern islands, Amami Oshima and nearby Tokunoshima between Kyushu and Okinawa. Primarily a nocturnal forest species, it is believed to be an ancestral form of rabbit that evolved before its fast-hopping, long-eared cousins. About a half metee in length, it is squat and has a long snout, small ears, tiny eyes that glow red in the dark, and a stout body supported by short legs. The feet are equipped with long, sharp claws used for digging. It feeds on shoots and grasses from spring to autumn and acorns in the short winter.
The Amami rabbit lives in dens they dig themselves. Females give birth to one baby at a time, in separate dens with the entrances sealed by mud. The babies are born blind and helpless and spend the first two months in the den. The rabbits are threatened by loss of habitat and mongooses, brought to Amami Oshima island to eradicate the poisonous habu snake. A few thousand live on Amami Oshima and few hundred live on Tokunoshima.
Wolves were common in Japan until the end of the 19th century. There were two kinds: the Japanese wolf, which ranged across Honshu, Kyushu and Shikoku; and the Ainu wolf, which ranged across Hokkaido and was revered by the Ainu as a howling God. Both kinds of wolf are now extinct.
Japanese wolves were smaller than wolves found on the Asian mainland. They sometimes had yellow fur and tails with rounded tips. Their main prey was deer. Most scientists regard them as a subspecies of wolf found in Eurasia and North America. Others regarded them as a completely different species.
Wolves were never vilified in children's stories in Japan like they were in the West. In fact wolves were deeply revered. Shinto shrines sometimes featured them a guardian gods, farmers worshiped them as deities and gamblers carried wolf fangs for good luck. People who lived in the mountains where wolves were most often seen called the animals “mountain dogs.” Many of these people worshiped wolf spirits as protectors of crops from hares, deer and other pests.
There were many reports of wolf attacks especially in April and May when mother were raising their young. During the great Teno famine in 1834, when corpses were piled up in great numbers and buried in shallow graves, wolves began digging up the corpses and eating them. They developed a taste for human flesh and, joined by stray dogs, began attacking children and weakened adults. Soldiers had to be called in to protect villagers.
Extinct Wolves in Japan
The Ainu wolf disappeared at the end of the 19th century. The last known Japanese wolf was captured in Fukui Province 1901. Another was found in 1905 in the mountains near Higashiyoshinomura, Nara Prefecture, and clubbed to death by loggers.
The wolves became extinct due to hunting, diseases such as distemper picked up from dogs, loss of and habitat due to human population increases. Many were shot and poisoned after they began feeding on livestock because their natural prey, deer, were shot by farmers as pests.
In 2000, a high school principal said he photographed a canid resembling a Japanese wolf in the mountains of central Kyushu. Experts who studied the photographs said the animal had characteristics peculiar to the Japanese wolf such as a round tip on its tail.
There has been some discussion of introducing wolves from China or the Korean peninsula to Japan, if for no other reason to control the exploding population of sitka deer, but there is little chance that this will happen soon.
Illegal Animal Trade in Japan
Many illegally sold wild animals end up in the Japan as well as the United States and Germany. Single back lizards and other protected reptiles are sometimes mailed from Australia to Japan where they sell on the black market for up to $5,000. Rare radiated tortoises and ring-tailed lemurs from Madagascar have been stolen from research centers and children’s zoos in Japan offered for sale on the illegal animal market through pet shops.
Four baby orangutans were once seized from the apartment of a former pet shop employee in Osaka. Five people, including the pet shop owner and the people who smuggled the animals into Japan, were arrested on charges of smuggling rare animals. The animals were purchased on the black market, sedated and brought into Japan in their carry-on luggage. The animals passed through customs at Kansai Airport without being discovered.
There is strong demand for rare reptiles in Japan. In December 2002, a gavial was seized by customs officials at Kansai International Airport. In August 2005, a pet shop owner and the head of a tropical garden were arrested for trying to sell rare false gavial crocodile hatchlings. In May 2004, three Japanese men were arrested in South Africa with 37 endangered armadillo-girdle lizards, which sell for around $3,500 each in Japan. There only believed to be around 2,000 to 3,000 of them left in wild due to over hunting for the pet trade.
Tortoises and turtles are particularly sought after because their association with long life. Some offer rare star tortoises from India and Pakistan can fetch between $20,000 and $25,000 in Japan.
There are illegal auctions for wild birds—such as white eyes, Japanese bush warblers and blue and white flycatchers—caught in Japan. Most of the birds are caught in forests using mist nets that are hung between trees by poachers. The birds are frequently bought by bird fanciers who value them for their songs. In some cases poachers are paid ¥1,500 for a bird that is bought at an action for ¥3,000 and ultimately sold to a bird fancier for ¥10,000.
In May 2007, 40 slow lorises—lemur-like creatures from South Asia that are a protected species under the CITES international treaty—were sized by customs officials at Narita Airport. The animals were found in small boxes brought in by a 38-year-old man on a flight from Bangkok. The animals were alive when seized but about a dozen died later.
There is lax enforcement against smuggling animals and the penalties are light if you get caught. There is a thriving underground market and a number of websites that offer rare animals. In some cases you can get animals in shopping mall pet stores. Authorities don’t put a lot of emphasis on catching animal smugglers. They insist they have more important things to worry about.
Animal Cruelty in Japan
More than 100 rabbits killed in the Kanto area during a wave of bunny murders in the summer of 1997.
In 2001, a 44-year-old Tokyo bank employee was charged with killing 10 cats with a crossbow. The man said he the killed the cats because they messed up his garden but police found a toy mouse and other cat toys though to have been used to lure the cats on to his property.
Elephants and Ivory in Japan
In June 1997, at a CITES (Convention in International Trade in Endangered Species) conference, a secret-ballot pushed by Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe ended the eight-year ivory ban. According to the deal most of the world’s stockpiled ivory would be sold to Japan in a tightly controlled operation to make sure no poached ivory entered the market.
In June 2007, three African nation—South Africa, Botswana and Namibia—were given permission to sell 60 tons of ivory to Japan by CITIES.
About 2.8 tons of ivory from African elephants was confiscated at a port in Osaka in August 2006 from a cargo ship that sailed from Malaysia. The tusks were found in 608 pieces and came from the equivalent of 130 elephants. There were also 18,000 pieces of ivory cut in blocks to make seals. It was the largest seizure of ivory ever. Government officials had difficultly deciding whether to destroy or preserve the confiscated ivory. Smuggled ivory is usually incinerated but the cache was so large incinerating it was regarded as wasteful. A company president who was supposed to receive the shipment received a one-year suspended prison sentence and was fined ¥800,000.
Most ivory in Japan is used to make signature stamps. see Elephants
Image Sources: Japan-Animals blog except Hokkaido (Nicolas Delerue), panda (WWF), hanko (Goods from Japan) and dinosaurs (Fukui Dinosaur Museum
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.