National

Citing threats to rare species, Japanese Environment Ministry rounding up feral cats on Amami Oshima island

JIJI

On Amami Oshima island in Kagoshima Prefecture concerns have been raised over feral cats that are preying on rare species after losing their territory and moving into nearby mountainous regions.

The Environment Ministry has started to catch such cats in a bid to preserve the ecosystem on the island, which is inhabited by rare indigenous species such as Amami rabbits.

Under the ministry’s plan, however, feral cats are to be culled after being captured if prospective owners are not found, sparking protests from animal care societies and other groups.

“We want to reduce the number of animals getting killed as much as possible,” an official from one such group said.

According to the ministry’s office in charge of nature preservation on Amami Oshima, and other sources, surveillance cameras located in forests on the island since around 2008 have confirmed that the number of feral cats has increased and that the animals have been preying on rare species.

In response, the ministry, five municipalities — including the city of Amami — and other groups compiled a plan for the management of stray cats, which are estimated to number from 600 to 1,200.

Under the plan, captured cats are killed if local governments are unable to find new owners.

In July, the ministry started operations in line with the plan, setting up 100 traps. They have successfully captured a total of 16 strays.

Each of the cats has been handed over to an individual or a group.

“If we capture more in the future but fail to find prospective owners, we would have to kill them,” an Amami City Government official said.

Tomoko Saito, a 44-year-old veterinarian and the representative director of nonprofit organization Goal Zero, a Tokyo-based animal care society, expressed her opposition to the governments’ move.

“There are efforts in society to reduce the number of animal slaughters,” she said. “The plan considers the killing of cats to be unavoidable.”

Saito has adopted one of the 16 captured cats.

Dobutsu Kikin, a foundation in Ashiya, Hyogo Prefecture, has set up a hospital in Amami that conducts free sterilizations of feral cats that have never had owners.

“By providing sterilizations, we can prevent reproduction and avoid killings,” said Kunihisa Sagami, head of the foundation.