Amami Rabbit
(Pentalagus furnessi)
This ancient species of rabbit is regarded as a ‘living fossil’ because its physical characteristics are similar to those of fossil species from the Miocene. With its small ears and eyes and its dense dark fur, it looks very different from a typical rabbit or hare. It lives in or on the edge of old-growth forests, away from human activity. Although the rabbit has been declared as a Japanese National Monument, its existence is not widely known, even amongst the people of Japan. The species is protected from hunting, but populations have decreased in the last few decades due to extensive habitat loss and predation by introduced carnivores.
Urgent Conservation Actions
Habitat conservation and long-term research and monitoring programmes. Populations of introduced species should be controlled in areas important for the rabbit.
Occurs on two islands in the Ryukyu Archipelago, southern Japan.
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Evolutionary Distinctiveness
Order: Lagomorpha
Family: Leporidae
The only species in its genus, the Amami rabbit is one of the most primitive lagomorphs in the world. It is so different from other rabbits and hares that it is considered to belong to an early branch of the main rabbit-hare evolutionary tree. Its ancestors are believed to have diverged from other leporids between 10 and 20 million years ago, about half as long ago as ancestral rabbits separated from pikas.
Head and body length: 430-510 mm
Tail length: 15 mm
Ear length: 45 mm
Weight: 2 kg
This ancient species looks very different from a typical rabbit or hare. It has retained several primitive characteristics, such as small eyes and ears and a long snout. The rabbit’s distinctive fur is dense and woolly, and is dark-brown in colour, fading to reddish-brown on the sides and underbelly. Its body is heavily built with short limbs that end in unusually long curved claws.
Predominantly solitary and nocturnal. Individuals spend their days sleeping in a den, usually an underground tunnel or a space between rocks and trees. At night the rabbits forage for food amongst the forest undergrowth. They eat a variety of plants and fruits depending on the season, with Japanese pampas grass forming the bulk of the diet in the summer months, and acorns during the winter. The rabbit breeds twice a year, producing two or three young which are raised in a safe den. The mother visits the den at night to nurse her young. When she leaves she carefully seals the den with dirt and plant material to protect them against predators.
More common in secondary forests close to mature forests than in those further from mature forests, indicating that a mosaic of mature and young forests is the most suitable habitat type for this species. Population surveys carried out between 1985 and 1990 indicate that the rabbits are most common in secondary forests, 10 to 40 years after clear-felling. The species is not found in cultivated or residential areas.
The species is only known to occur on the islands of Amami (820 km²) and Tokuno (248 km²) in the Ryukyu Archipelago, southwest of Japan. The distribution has been estimated to be around 370 km² on Amami and 33 km² on Tokuno Island. Some populations are completely isolated and thought to be very small.

Population Estimate
The population has been estimated to be between 3,000 and 5,000, of which the majority are found on the island of Amami. There are believed to be fewer than 500 individuals remaining on the island of Tokuno.
Population Trend
In spite of an increase in the area of young forests due to continuous cutting, surveys have indicated a significant decline in the distribution and abundance of the species over the past 20 years. In particular, populations of Amami rabbit have decreased in the central part of the island, where mongoose numbers have rapidly increased in recent years.
Classified as Endangered (EN B1ab(ii,iii,v)+2ab(ii,iii,v)) on the 2010 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
The rabbits initially became endangered as a result of hunting for meat and oriental medicine. Although this ended in 1921 when Japan gave the species full legal protection, it is still under threat from predation by stray dogs, feral cats and other animals introduced by humans. In particular, Java mongooses Herpestes javanicus have killed large numbers of Amami rabbits, following their introduction in 1979 to control the population of venomous habu pit vipers Trimeresurus flavoviridis. Unfortunately, the mongooses devastated populations of the islands’ native small mammals instead.

In the last few decades, habitat loss due to extensive logging operations has also been a major contributor to the rabbits’ decline. Less than 1% of the forests on Amami Island have been protected from development activities such as logging resort development and road construction. The total area of mature forest in 2000 was estimated to be about 40% of that in 1970, accounting for about 9.1% of the forest area on the island. Young secondary forests, resulting from complete clearance of mature forests, now cover much of the island. However, rabbits are less common in areas of secondary forest far from mature forest patches.
Conservation Underway
The species has been declared as a Japanese National Monument, and as such receives protection from hunting and capture. Some animals are further protected in national reserves such as the Amami Gunto Quasi-National Park. A number of population surveys (consisting of rabbit pellet counts and community interviews) have been carried out over the past two decades. These surveys have yielded important data on the population and conservation status of the species, and have confirmed the negative effect mongooses are having on rabbit populations. The results of these studies have led to recent culls of this alien invasive predator by the federal and local government.
Conservation Proposed
A combination of habitat restoration and predator control initiatives are required to mitigate the threats to the Amami rabbit. Careful habitat management is needed to maintain a mosaic of mature oak forests and young second-growth so that the rabbit can obtain food throughout the year. Such mosaics are still fairly abundant in the central and the southern parts of Amami Island. The primary conservation measure in such areas would be to limit forest road construction. This measure would restrict the logging of more mature forests, help prevent the further expansion of predators into the forest, and ensure that local rabbit populations do not become isolated. Increased habitat protection would be beneficial in the southern part of Amami Island, where the population density of rabbits is still quite high. Populations of predators (feral cats and dogs and introduced mongooses) should be controlled, particularly in areas of important habitat.

Long-term research and monitoring programmes are also required to continue to assess the conservation and management needs of the species.
IUCN/SSC Lagomorph Specialist Group
International group focused on the conservation and management of pikas, rabbits and hares.
Nowak, R.M. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World. Sixth edition. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.

SSC Newsletter no. 42. July-Dec 2004.

Sugimura, K. The Amami Rabbit Pentalagus furnessi. In: Chapman, J.A. & Flux, J.E.C. (eds.). 1990. Rabbits, Hares and Pikas: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. Pp: 140-142. IUCN/SSC Lagomorph Specialist Group. IUCN, Gland. Switzerland.

Sugimura, K. and Yamada, F. 2004. Estimating population size of the Amami rabbit Pentalagus furnessi based on fecal pellet counts on Amami Island, Japan. Acta Zoologica Sinica 50 (4): 519-526.

Sugimura, K., Yamada, F. and Miyamoto, A. 2003. Population Trend and Habitat Change on Amami Island, Japan. Glob. Environ. Res. 7 (1): 79-89.

UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre

Yamada, F & Sugimura, K. 2008.Pentalagus furnessi. In: IUCN 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.4. www.iucnredlist.org. Downloaded on 14 November 2010.

Distribution map based on data provided by the IUCN Global Mammal Assessment.

if you can provide new information to update this species account or to correct any errors, please email us at info@edgeofexistence.org

Forum comments
  1. Anonymous

    I would like to know more

    Posted 8 years ago #

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