The Environment Ministry will begin implanting microchips in pet cats in northern Okinawa that will carry data about the animal and its owner.

The aim is to protect endangered species that are increasingly falling prey to stray pets and to discourage people from abandoning pets, officials said Tuesday.

There will be no effort to implant the chips in pets that have already strayed.

The ministry hopes the move will protect endangered species such as the Okinawa rail (“yambarukuina”), a rare flightless bird, and the Okinawa woodpecker (“noguchigera”), whose habitat is in the Yambaru district on Okinawa Island.

Veterinarians, working in cooperation with the prefectural government, will implant the 1-cm-long, 2-mm-wide chips in domestic cats. The plan will take effect in fiscal 2003, which starts April 1.

According to the officials, Yambaru-area pet cats will be targeted. It is still unknown how many will be subject to the procedure.

But since stray cats will be excluded, it is unclear how effective the measure will be in protecting the endangered species.

The officials hope the microchip initiative will raise the awareness of pet owners and discourage them from abandoning their animals. The microchip will contain the names of the owners and the pets’ medical records.

One major reason behind the ministry’s decision is the large number of pets being abandoned in Japan.

In 2000, local governments nationwide collected about 275,000 abandoned cats. Okinawa officials said they seized at least 68 strays between last May and December.

A health ministry panel in 1994 considered but gave up a proposal to implant microchips in pet dogs, citing animal protection concerns.

The idea has also been discussed at the Japan Veterinary Medical Association since 1997, with proponents saying such a measure, with the microchips made smaller due to advanced technology, would pose no major health risks for the animals.

Local officials in Okinawa, however, voiced skepticism over whether the implants would improve protection for rare birds.

“I tend to think that perhaps encouraging spaying and neutering might be more effective,” said Yasutoshi Shimabukuro, public health official at the Okinawa government.

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