The dark-haired Amami rabbit is the last surviving primitive rabbit species that once lived in mainland Asia. An endangered species that lives only on Amami Oshima and Tokunoshima in Kagoshima Prefecture. A photographer who has documented rabbits for his 40 years shares his insight into these ‘living fossils’.
memorable first meeting
The Amami rabbit is one of the most famous of Amami Oshima’s many native animals. I grew up on an island and, shamefully, knew very little about this animal. In 1921, it was designated as a national natural monument for the first time in Japan. I learned this in October 1984, when Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, visited Amami Oshima as Chairman of the World Wildlife Fund.
The late Duke of Edinburgh visited a small island in southern Kagoshima Prefecture to observe rabbits descended from an ancient subgroup that once roamed mainland Asia. Reading about Philip’s visit in the newspaper, I was touched by his expression of hope that conservation efforts would continue to protect the environment on what he called one of the world’s rarest rabbits. Having such a famous figure express my concern for small creatures opened my eyes to the plight of the world. Black Rabbit of Amamias animals are known in Japanese.
In the summer of 1986, I set foot in the wilds of Amami Oshima for the first time and saw for myself whether the Amami rabbit was as special as people said. This proved to be a life changing experience. At night, I took my family out and drove for about an hour on a bumpy mountain road when a black mass with ruby eyes appeared in the car’s headlights. I hit the road and slowly approached the animal. A closer look revealed that it was a black-furred rabbit. After a while, what I was staring at suddenly popped into my head. I got goosebumps and shouted “Amami Rabbit!” It was a moment I will never forget.
shrouded in mystery
I left Tokyo, returned to Amami Oshima, and found my calling as a photographer. However, six years later, I still hadn’t found a suitable theme and was still feeling dejected and anxious about my decision to go home. The experience fascinated me, and I began to regularly venture into the island’s dense woodlands to photograph the creature.
At that time, the virgin forests of Amami Oshima were full of dangers, both real and imagined.Anyone reckless enough to trek through the undergrowth at night risked crossing paths with the Terrible hub (yellow-spotted viper) or provoke anger Kenmuna supernatural creature resembling a Kappa It is believed to live in the interior of the island. Little research has been done on the ecology and behavior of the nocturnal Amami rabbit, so I was heading into uncharted territory with the Amami rabbit. The information that was there tended to be rudimentary, with short legs and ears, dark colors, hiding in rocks and ground burrows, and was primarily a nocturnal haunt along access roads to forestry. collected from sightings of
I had no experience photographing wild animals, but from that summer onwards, I scanned the undergrowth night after night, telling myself that documenting Amami rabbits was my life’s work. Every time I went out, I fell deeper into the animal spell. I had to learn how to be a wildlife photographer from scratch, but in his December, six months after his first riveting encounter on the roadside, he discovered a rabbit hole. My hard work finally paid off when I did.
After much trial and error in trying to document the creature’s behavior, I was able to capture a rabbit leaving its nest in early January 1987. I took care of that young. These and other questions drove me deeper and deeper into the island’s dense subtropical forests, discovering an astonishing world populated by a myriad of seasonally changing flora and fauna.
Over time, my senses adapted to my surroundings. In the fall of 1996, when I stumbled upon a patch of unruly soil, I asked an elderly islander who was familiar with the forest to explain it to me, and I immediately knew it was a nest of Amami rabbits.
Given the opportunity to unveil the nesting habits of Amami rabbits, I set out to document previously undocumented aspects of Amami rabbit behavior. However, capturing the brief interactions between mothers and offspring has not been an easy task.
Female Amami rabbits leave their burrows and dig their nests in the fall. When the mother has finished building the nest, it is usually about one meter deep, lined with leaves on the bottom, and lays one or more kittens. She then seals the nest entrance with dirt and returns every two nights to feed her offspring. Nursing lasts only 2 minutes for her and the mother rabbit takes another 20 minutes to reseal the nest entrance before disappearing into the undergrowth. This cycle repeats for 40 days until the young rabbits are large enough to leave the nest, at which point they settle in their mother’s burrow.
Timing was critical in such a narrow window. He camped near the site for two months before successfully photographing different aspects of nesting for the first time.
Based on this success, in December 1998, the nesting habits of Amami rabbits were documented for the first time with photographs and videos.The response to these images has been astonishing, and overnight, Amami Oshima has gone from an obscure destination to a globally recognized sensation.Famous magazines such as the BBC wildlife When national geographic Having published the characteristics of the island, the expert has written a paper on the flora and fauna of Amami in a prominent international journal.
Protecting “living fossils”
In 2021, the inclusion of Amami Oshima and neighboring Tokunoshima in the group of UNESCO World Natural Heritage Sites of the southern Japanese islands, which also support rabbit populations, will increase the number of Amami rabbits and other rabbit populations. Efforts to protect the species have become very active. This was an honor I could never have imagined. The previous 36 years had been devoted to documenting the behavior and rich woodland habitat of Amami rabbits. It was incredible for my home island to receive such international recognition.
Amami Oshima has long suffered from environmental destruction caused by humans. The forest was exploited as a source of cheap timber and the mongoose was introduced. hub Population has only pushed the island’s ecosystem closer to the brink. Despite the damage caused by such shortsighted policies, Amami rabbits and other endangered native species have managed to survive. I hope that through my photography I can help show others the importance of protecting these precious animals.
- family: rabbit family (hare and rabbit)
- Scientific name: Pentalagus furnessi
- Distribution: Amami Oshima, Tokunoshima (Kagoshima Prefecture)
- Body length: 41cm to 51cm
- Weight: 1.3kg to 2.7kg
- Color: Dark Brown
- Population: 10,024–34,429 (Amami Oshima); 1,525–4,735 (Tokunoshima) (as of 2021)
It is designated as “Endangered IB” in the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.
Banner photo: An Amami rabbit looks into the lens of an unmanned camera as it attempts to scale a stump. Photo courtesy of Futoshi Hamada.