The Iriomote Cat

Cat of the Month ~ July 2017

an iriomote cat prowling

An Irimote prowls on a tree branch

Photograph: © Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park

The Iriomote cat is probably a subspecies of the leopard cat or may be the sole member of an entirely separate genus (Mayailurus Iriomotensis)….who knows!

Iriomote live only on the small Japanese island of Iriomote or ‘Iriomote-jima’ and nowhere else on the planet. The island lies 200 kilometers to the east of Taiwan and has a total area of 113 square miles (292 sq km).

Iriomote cats have a dark grey and brown fur colour with lighter hair on the belly and insides of the limbs. The sides are marked with rows of dark brown spots, which often form into stripes around the neck and legs. It has been observed that the Iriomote cat has a relatively elongate and low-slung build, with short legs. The tail is dark brown (with a darker spots pattern on the back sides) whilst the underside of the tail is solid dark brown as is the very tip of the tail. It has rounded ears with black fur spread along the edges. Adult Iriomote cats have a white spot on the back of each ear, much like those found on tigers’ ears. Young Iriomote cats do not have these marks, and even as adults the spots will not be as white as those seen on other leopard cat subspecies. Its eyes are a light amber shade and there are two dark brown spots on each cheek.


Iriomote cats have been seen in wooded mountainous areas, open country and even mangrove swamps and beaches along the island shores. They will though also climb trees, wade into water and even swim. It is thought to spend most of its time alone and, like many wild cats, is mostly nocturnal and especially active during twilight hours. During the daytime, they tend to sleep in tree hollows or in caves (out of the heat of the day and no doubt away from human disturbance). To mark territory they will urinate and defecate on rocks, tree stumps and bushes. Their home ranges vary from 1 to 7 sq km (or 0.38 to 2.7 sq miles) in area.


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. It has been shown that these cats prefer areas near rivers, forest edges, and places with low humidity.
Iriomote cats are carnivorous and prey on various mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and crustaceans. They typically ingest 400–600 gramms (0.88–1.32 lb) of food a day. Other wild cats primarily hunt small mammals, such as rodents and rabbits, but because there are no other carnivores to compete with the Iriomote cat on the island, there is no need for them to isolate themselves from the various habitats and food sources that are available. Thus, their diet is quite varied.

Mammalian prey includes black rats, Ryukyu flying foxes and young Ryukyu wild boar. Their prey also includes a wide range of birds, such as the spot-billed duck, slaty-legged crake, Eurasian scops-owl, pale thrush, and white-breasted waterhen. Reptiles include various types of snakes and Kishinoue’s giant skink. They are also known to hunt Sakishima rice frogs, yellow-spotted crickets and crabs. As their hunting grounds tend to be in swamps or on shores, they sometimes swim and dive to catch water birds, fish, and freshwater prawns.
When eating birds that are larger than a dusky thrush, most types of cats will pluck the feathers and then eat it, but the Iriomote cat will eat even large birds whole without removing the feathers. “How big is a dusky thrush Ed?”….no idea Osc… let me just look that up.

a pair of iromote cats in captivity

A Pair of Irimote cats, likely to be in captivity

Photograph: Source Unknown

Since the Iriomote cat mainly inhabits the lowland coastal regions 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 (Prionailurus bengalensis iriomotensis) was discovered in 1965 by Yukio Togawa (戸川幸夫 Togawa Yukio), an author who specialized in works about animals. In 1967, it was first described by Yoshinori Imaizumi, director of the zoological department of the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo. However before its scientific discovery, the Iriomote cat was known locally by various beautiful names. In Japanese, the cat is called Iriomote-yamaneko (西表山猫, “Iriomote mountain cat”). In local dialects of the Yaeyama language, it is known as yamamayaa (ヤママヤー, “the cat in the mountain”), yamapikaryaa (ヤマピカリャー, “that which shines on the mountain”), and meepisukaryaa (メーピスカリャー, “that which has flashing eyes”).

This small cat has been listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List since 2008, as the only population comprises fewer than 250 adult individuals and is considered declining. As of 2007, there were an estimated 100–109 individuals remaining. It is certainly one of the rarest of cats, with its entire population contained on one Japanese island.

Source: From Wikipedia & others

Japan’s Cat Day

It’s Nyan Nyan Nyan day (that’s "meow meow meow" if you’re English speaking), and so Cat Day has come and gone again.
This celebration has been held in honor of cats, for over 30 years now!

Cat surveying a Tokyo street

The Japanese celebration of Cat Day happens on the Twenty Second of February each year. It seems that many Japanese people are just cat crazy. They seem to show so much love for this creature…and why not indeed?

The date was decided upon after an executive cat day committee polled 9,000 cat lovers. The majority voted that the date ‘February 22nd’ (or 2 – 22, and pronounced "ni ni ni" in Japanese), was the best candidate for a new cat day, as it was this date which most sounded like the words "nyan nyan nyan".

Japanese people marked the big day this year with millions of cat-loving posts on social media. Feline selfies, cat-shaped cakes and snacks, cat capers and moggy-themed costumes were amongst the images and videos which flooded the internet. It is true that like many countries Japan’s people have lived with cats for centuries, but Japan seems to be in a special place when cats are concerned. Below is a short list of Japans Nyan, Nyan, Nyan: (all derived from the archives of a certain trusty search engine * ) :

There’s the maneki-neko (in japanese, "a beckoning cat") – a well known Japanese ornament, lucky charm or talisman) which is often believed to bring good luck to the owner.
These figurine depict a cat (traditionally a calico Japanese Bobtail) beckoning with an upright paw.

You can see them in the entrances of shops, restaurants and other business premises. Some of the sculptures are electric or battery-powered and have a slow-moving paw beckoning. The maneki-neko is sometimes also called the welcoming cat, lucky cat, money cat, happy cat or fortune cat, or "fist bump" cat in English.

maneki-neko are popular figurines.
Photograph: ©

Hello Kitty or ‘Kitty White’, is a fictional character produced by the Japanese company Sanrio, created by Yuko Shimizu and further designed by Yuko Yamaguchi. She is depicted as an anthropomorphic white Japanese Bobtail cat with a red bow. Initially known only as "the white kitten with no name" it is said in the ‘folk law’ of this animal born in the suburbs of London, England, on November first. She is "five apples" high and weighs "three apples". She is portrayed as a bright girl with a kind heart, very close to her twin sister Mimmy. She is good at baking cookies and loves Mama’s homemade apple pie. She loves to collect cute things and her favorite subjects in school are English, Art and Music.

Kitty’s family: father George White (top left), mother Mary (top right) and twin sister Mimmy, who, we are told, is Kitty’s best friend.
Photograph: ©

Then there are Cat Cafés’. The first known cat café was opened in Taiwan. It’s said that a Japanese tourist took the idea back to Japan, with the first Japanese cat cafe opening its doors in Osaka in 2004. Many apartments in Japan forbid pets to be kept, so cafes such as these provide a way for busy business men/women to be with animals for recreation, and as a way of offsetting the stress of modern life. In Japan, there are already over 150 cat cafes – such cafes are now appearing in countries all over the world.

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A cat cafe simply overrun with felines… and who’s king of the castle?
Photograph: ©

How about the so called ‘cat paradise’ Aoshima Island. The mile-long island of Aoshima in southern Japan today has a whole town of feral cats which outnumber humans six to one.

Cats on the Dockside. Any spare fish mister?

Photograph: ©

These cats were originally introduced to deal with mice that plagued fishermen’s boats. Numbers have now increased (last count over 120 cats). The cats of Aoshima are not fussy eaters (as you can imagine), surviving on the rice balls, energy bars or potatoes they entice tourists to give them. With no natural predators on the Island they are free to roam this seemingly Island paradise.

cats on the dockside

So many beautiful faces …and mouths to be fed!

Photograph: ©

Sources: ,, japan-magazine,,

* original post (22/03/2016) recovered from an internet archive after accidental deletion – thank you Mr Google.