Nansei Shoto

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Shiraho coral reef in Ishigaki island, Nansei Shoto Islands, Japan.
© WWF-Canon / Kobayashi TKAKASHI

About the Area

The Nansei Shoto Archipelago consists of numerous small and large islands lying in a chain between southern Japan and Taiwan, China. These islands are the Galapagos of the western Pacific - a treasure trove of incredible biodiversity that includes many plant and bird species found nowhere else on Earth.

The larger of these islands are volcanic in origin, with mountainous terrain. The smaller ones are mostly formations of coral. All of them contain forests of leafy trees that flourish in the wet, subtropical climate, and have numerous endemic plant and bird species.

The islands have a subtropical climate with warm winters and hot summers. Precipitation is very high, and is affected by the rainy season and typhoons.

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Size:
N/A

Habitat type:
Tropical Coral

Geographic Location:
Pacific Ocean off eastern Asia

Conservation Status:
Critical/Endangered
Local Species
The Iriomote Islands contain the world's only habitat for the rare and endangered Iriomote cat (Felis iriomotensis) - a brown, spotted cat discovered in 1964, that is slightly bigger than the average housecat, and hunts for small mammals, birds, lizards, and insects from their perches in the trees.

Other species of interest include the Amami rabbit (Pentalagus furnessi), Okinawan or Pyers' woodpecker (Sapheopipo noguchii), and the Okinawa rail (Rallus okinawae) - nearly flightless birds, discovered in 1981.

Featured Species

The Amami Rabbit (Pentalagus furnessi) or Amami no Kuro Usagi, also known as the Ryukyu Rabbit, is a primitive dark-furred rabbit. 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 2 small islands where they survive today.

This rabbit has short legs, a somewhat bulky body, rather large and curved claws which it uses to dig out its nest holes. Its ears are also significantly smaller than those of other rabbits or hares.

Little is known about the social or breeding habits of this endangered nocturnal rabbit. However, Amami rabbits are noted for making calling noises, which sound similar to a pika; this makes them unique as most rabbits do not make calling noises.

Island residents introduced the mongoose to these islands in an attempt to control the population of poisonous snakes. This intervention has backfired as the mongoose prefers to diet on the Amami rabbit, threatening the very survival of this enigmatic creature.

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WWF's work
WWF Japan was established in Tokyo in 1971. Its work focuses on both national and international issues in which Japan is involved. This includes conservation of Nansei Shoto Archipelago. In April 2000 WWF inaugurated the WWF Coral Reef Conservation and Research Centre in Shiraho Village on Ishigaki Island, Okinawa. Since then the centre has been involved in community-based conservation for sustainable resource management and use, based on research, monitoring and environmental education.

WWF Japan also works to promote forestry certification schemes, environmental education, prevention of global warming through promotion of natural energy and policy advocacy on CITES etc.

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