After many years on the endangered list of animals, Japan's Amami Black rabbit can finally breathe a sigh of relief - That's because this year, the rare animal that is believed to be the only living remnant of the ancient rabbit that once inhabited Asia, is no longer in danger of being eradicated!
Found only on the two small islands of Amami Oshima and Toku No Shima far out to sea near Okinawa, the effort to save the dark-furred rabbit often referred to as a living fossil, began in 1921, when the Japanese government promoted it to the status of 'natural monument'. This meant that it could not be hunted down for food. However, when that did not work, it got yet another promotion to 'special natural monument', which meant that the rabbit could not be trapped or hunted.
While that helped it was not enough - By 2004 with only between 2,000-5,000 specimens left in the wild, the Amami rabbit was officially declared endangered! The reason for the severe population decline was attributed to loss of habitat caused by forest clearing for home and agriculture use and the introduction of a new invasive species not native to the island - Mongoose. Brought in to get rid of the snake population, the animals instead seemed to prefer the black rabbit. In 2005, the government imposed a strict mongoose eradication order and slowly but surely, the rabbits started to come back.
Besides being an ancient relic this nocturnal bunny also sports a rather unusual lifestyle. Its ideal habitat is a forest that features both trees and large grasses - The former to find acorns to feed on and the latter, to hide its babies. That's because to protect them from being eaten by predators, the Amami bunny buries them deep into the ground among the grasses and covers them up with dirt during the the day. Then, in the middle of the night, still keeping a vigilant eye out for predators, it digs them out from their hiding place and feeds them. No wonder the animal is sometimes referred to as 'midnight bunny'. Also, unlike its modern-day counterparts it breeds only twice a year - between March-May and September-December. And when it gives birth, it is only to one or two babies at a time.
Though Japan has been able to stop this furry treasure from being wiped out from the world, there are many more that are still in danger. We sure hope that officials in other parts of the world take the lead from Japan to save their endangered species.
Resources: telegraph.co.uk, wikipedia.org, hopperhomebunnyblog.com