|A Wild Cat Living in an Primeval Natural
A jewel in the ocean at 24 degrees north and 123 degrees east, the 284 square kilometers (110 square miles) of Iriomote-jima form one of the islands of the Yaeyama Shoto, an archipelago of a dozen inhabited islands, including Ishigaki-jima and Taketomi-jima, and half a dozen uninhabited ones. The subtropical climate of Iriomote-jima supports a coastal fringe of mangroves with inland broad-leaved forests. It also supports a number of species of indigenous animals, such as the Iriomote Wildcat, only found here and nowhere else. Accordingly, not only does the island contain the Iriomote National Park but, in recognition of the need to conserve its unique ecology, it is also designated as a Forest Ecology Conservation Area. This Area includes a section of untouchable virgin forest that covers 30 square kilometers (12 square miles), and a conservation buffer zone of 86 square kilometers (33 square miles), making a total of 116 square kilometers (45 square miles). Seven types of mangrove fringe the shores of Iriomote-jima, while the primeval forest that spreads inland is subtropical in form, consisting of trees such as the Sudajii (Castanopsis cuspidata), the Tabunoki (Persea thunbergii), and the Okinawa Urajirogashi (Quercus miyagii). Also, between Iriomote-jima and Ishigaki-jima lies the largest coral reef in Japan, 20 kilometers (12 miles) long and 15 kilometers (9 miles) wide.
Although Iriomote-jima is home to numerous wild animals that can not be seen elsewhere, especially notable is the Iriomote Wildcat, or Felis iriomotensis. The Iriomote Wildcat is an endangered species. It is said to have crossed from the continent when the island was still connected to mainland China. Only about 100 cats are known to be surviving today. Since it is such a primitive form of cat, it has been called a living fossil since it was discovered in 1965.
Photos: The natural environment of Iriomote Island is left untouched (Okinawa Convention and Visitors Bureau); an Iriomote wildcat (Iriomote Ranger Office, the Ministry of the Environment).
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