The Iriomote Cat is the rarest of all cats, with its entire, tiny, population on one small Japanese island.
- Scientific Designation: Prionailurus iriomotensis/Mayailurus iriomotensis
- Endangered Status: Critically Endangered (CR)
The cat’s background color is brown marked with rows of dark brown spots, which often form into stripes around the neck and legs. The hair is rather long. Further, the Iriomote cat has a relatively elongate and low-slung build, with short legs and a short tail.
Little is known about the ecology and behavior of the cat, although it is thought to be mainly terrestrial and to hunt by night. It is thought to spend most of its time alone. Recent studies into the cat’s diet reveal that its prey includes animals such as fruit bats, birds, wild pig, rodents, reptiles, amphibians, and crab. The cat also can swim well and will catch fish if the opportunity presents.
The Iriomote cat is at the center of one of the most controversial debates in the speciation of the Felidae family. The debate surrounds the Iriomote cat’s relationship to the leopard cat. It is considered to be either:
- A rare subspecies of the leopard cat, belonging to the same genus but listed as a separate species (Prionailurus iriomotensis), or
- The sole member of a separate genus (Mayailurus iriomotensis).
The Iriomote cat is found only on the small Japanese island of Iriomote. The island is east of Taiwan and has a total area of 113 square miles (292 square km). The island consists of primarily low mountains (300-400 m) covered with subtropical evergreen broadleaved primary forest, including extensive belts of mangrove along waterways. The little Iriomote cat inhabits a wide variety of habitats on the island, from wooded mountainous areas to open country and even beaches.
Threats to the Iriomote Cat
Since the Iriomote cat mainly inhabits the lowland coastal regions (lowland subtropical rainforest) of the island, the cat is in direct conflict with the island’s human population. Recent estimates have put the total Iriomote cat population to be as low as 100 individuals. The threats to this rare cat are loss of habitat, growing competition from the island’s feral cat population, and tourism.
The Iriomote cat is currently classified as Critically Endangered (CR) by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and is protected under appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
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