Driving App Used to Protect Endangered Cats on Okinawan Island

Courtesy of the Iriomote Wildlife Conservation Center
An Iriomote cat

A smartphone app developed for drivers is being used to protect Iriomote cats, an endangered species living only on Iriomote Island in Okinawa Prefecture and designated as a special natural monument by the government.

The project was launched by major car parts company Denso Corp., which developed the app. The app will detect places with a higher risk of traffic accidents on the island, and the information will be used to ask authorities to set up road signs at those spots.

There are estimated to be about 100 Iriomote cats. The Environment Ministry’s red list of endangered species categorizes them as facing the highest risk of extinction.

According to the ministry’s nature conservation ranger office on the island, one to seven Iriomote cats have been killed in traffic accidents every year since 2000, except for 2020 when there were few visitors due to the pandemic.

In 2022, four of the cats were killed on the road. The accidents, many of which occur after dark, are a major factor in the decline in the cats’ population.

The Denso app employs a scoring system to encourage drivers to drive safely. Through smartphone sensors and GPS, the app can collect various driving data on its users, such as excessive speed, abrupt acceleration and sudden braking.

Based on the data, the Iriomote Wildlife Conservation Center will cooperate with the Okinawa prefectural government and others to take measures to protect the cats, such as erecting road signs at places with a high risk of accidents.

Currently, about 30 to 40 residents on the island are participating in the project. Denso has introduced a bonus gift for users who are recognized by the app as a good driver, including discount vouchers they can use on the island.

Anyone who installs the app can take part in the project, which will continue through March next year.