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Amami rabbit

A primitive dark-furred rabbit which is only found in Amami Ōshima and Toku-no-Shima, two small islands in between southern Kyūshū and Okinawa in Kagoshima Prefecture (but actually closer to Okinawa) in Japan. Often called a living fossil, the Amami rabbit is a living remnant of ancient rabbits that once lived on the Asian mainland, where they died out, remaining only on the two small islands where they survive today.

The Amami rabbit has short hind legs and feet, a somewhat bulky body, and rather large and curved claws used for digging and sometimes climbing. Its ears are also significantly smaller than those of other rabbits or hares. The pelage is thick, woolly and dark brown on top and becomes more reddish-brown on the sides. The eyes are also small compared to more common rabbits and hares. The average weight is 2.5–2.8 kg.

The ideal habitat for these rabbits is in an area between mature and young forests. They use the dense mature forests as protection and for the presence of acorns for their diet. They also use the high density of perennial grasses and herbaceous ground cover in the young forests for their diet during different times of the year. Therefore, the best habitat for them to live in is where they have easy access to both young and mature forests with no obstructions between the two forest types.

Using faecal pellet counts and resident surveys the number of rabbits is estimated at 2000–4800 left on Amami Island and 120–300 left on Tokuno Island.

This species is a nocturnal forest-dweller that reproduces once in late March–May and once in September–December having 1–2 young each time. The mother digs a hole in the ground for them to hide in during the day. At night, the mother opens the entrance to the hole, while watching for predators (like venomous snakes), and then nurses its young, after which it closes the hole with dirt and plant material by thumping on it with its front paws. Amami rabbits sleep during the day in hidden places, such as caves. Amami rabbits are also noted for making calling noises, which sound something like the call of a pika.

Before 1921 hunting and trapping were another cause of decline in population numbers. In 1921 Japan declared the Amami rabbit a "natural monument" which prevented it from being hunted. Then in 1963 it was changed to a "special natural monument" which prevented it from being hunted and trapped as well.

In July 2008, the Amami Rangers for Nature conservation obtained a photograph of a feral cat carrying a rabbit corpse (rabbit bones and fur found in cat or dog droppings had already been found), prompting discussions on better ways to control pets. There is a small area of the Amami Island that has the Amami Gunto Quasi-National Park that further protects the population. There has been some attempt at habitat restoration, however the Amami rabbit needs a mosaic of mature and young forest that is in close proximity and when a young forest is regrown nowhere near a mature forest, this rabbit is not likely to inhabit it. There is also research and population monitoring underway to try to keep the numbers from declining, even if they can not be increased.

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  • Category: Mammals
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