Japan struggles to save threatened Iriomote wildcat

As Japan seeks to make amends for long prioritizing industrialization over environmental safeguards, the case of the Iriomote wildcat is proving that redress isn’t easy. The cats, suspected to number less than 100, live solely on the 110-square-mile island of Iriomote. But, as a mascot for the green movement, they can be seen all over Japan — on city buses, refrigerator magnets, key chains, coffee mugs, and wildcat-poop-shaped chocolates (yes, really). The exposure has increased not only awareness, but tourism and development on Iriomote, introducing new threats: traffic, increased habitat loss, disease, stray dogs, interbreeding with house cats, and crab traps. The Iriomote Wildlife Conservation Center has responded heroically, introducing photo and radio tracking, a rehabilitation center, and a highway with cat-crossing signs and 80 cat underpasses. But despite best efforts, says the center’s Maki Okamura, the cat is “barely hanging on. Even if we lose just one, it has a huge impact.”