Iriomote residents conduct night patrols to protect wild cat

Iriomote residents conduct night patrols to protect wild cat

Mirai Hirai (left) and her husband Noriyuki leaving on "Yamaneko Patrol" at Taketomi Town, Iriomote Island on March 14.

March 23, 2015 Ryukyu Shimpo 

Save Iriomote wild cats from traffic accidents – five couples are involved in a project called the “Yamaneko Patrol,” on roads around Taketomi Town, Iriomote Island where many wild cats have been seen. Twenty-nine-year old Mirai Hirai who came back to her hometown three years ago after getting married, has joined the patrols with her family. She hopes the project will be a success, “I only realized how wonderful the island of Iriomote and its wild cats are, after I had lived elsewhere for so long. I hope this project to protect the wild cats will spread across the island.” At 7 p.m., Hirai and her 28-year old husband Noriyuki took off with their two children for a patrol in their mini car covered with stickers reading, “Wild cat” and “Save our wildlife.” On the prefectural road where the speed limit is 40km per hour, they drive along slowly at around 20-30 km per hour with the hazard lamps flashing. They pay close attention to the road and the bushes alongside it, looking for wildlife. At the same time they want to send out a message to other drivers not to break the speed limit.

The patrols began as part of a project by the nonprofit organization Japan Tiger and Elephant Fund (JTEF) four years ago to help conserve the wild cat. Those involved are local residents, like the Hirai family. Initially, the patrols were only done during the summer months but they’ve now been extended throughout the whole year. The group has grown in size and they carry out patrols up to five times a week during the peak season. They also conduct surveys to monitor the speed of vehicles using the roads. Such information is used in their promotional activities.

Hirai, who goes out on patrol once a week, only learned about the high number of traffic accidents involving wild cats when she moved back to Iriomote. She recalls how she was shocked by what was happening, “I knew nothing about it even though I am from the island.” She started volunteering on the project a year and half ago.

The executive director of JTEF, Masayuki Sakamoto, commented, “It is very significant that local residents are actively involved in this project. The participants are really aware of the importance of conservation, and hopefully this will lead to more participation by the younger generation.” Sakamoto is hoping the project will grow further.

Hirai said, “The wild cats are a treasure of our island, but it feels that local people haven’t got serious yet about saving them. It somehow reminds me of myself a long time ago. It was only leaving the island that made me notice that we have so many things we need to protect.” She added forcefully, “I would like to continue the patrols to let more people know what has to be done to protect the wild cats.”

(English translation by T&CT and Sayaka Sakuma) 

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