Tsushima Leopard Cat, a Critically Endangered National Protected Species, Suffers Damage from Vermin Traps; Solutions Not Easy

Courtesy of Tsushima Wildlife Conservation Center
A Tsushima leopard cat caught in a trap in Tsushima, Nagasaki Prefecture, in February 2020.

TSUSHIMA, Nagasaki — The Tsushima leopard cat, a nationally protected species that inhabits the remote island of Tsushima in Nagasaki Prefecture, are being caught and injured in traps set for pests.

Some die of emaciation while caught and the Environment Ministry has urged trappers to check on their traps frequently, but the solution to this problem is not easy.

The Tsushima leopard cat is a subspecies of the leopard cat that lives in China and Southeast Asia. It is thought to have migrated to the island when it was part of the Asian continent about 100,000 years ago.

There used to be an estimated 250 to 300 Tsushima leopard cats circa 1970, but the number is believed to have dwindled to about 100 due to environmental degradation and traffic accidents. The ministry’s Red List categorizes the species as “critically endangered.”

Last March, the ministry’s Tsushima Wildlife Conservation Center rescued an injured leopard cat after an islander discovered it in Tsushima City.

Its left hind leg was necrotic, apparently from being cinched tight, and had to be surgically amputated.

After about six months of rehabilitation at the center to restore its ability to walk and climb, the cat was reintroduced to the wild.

“The wound was deep. If it had been discovered later, it might have died,” the center’s chief nature conservation officer said.

In the city, an increasing number of deer and wild boars are causing serious damage to crops and rare plants, triggering calls to get eradicate them. Members of the island’s hunting club then set up snare traps, which snags the animal’s leg with a wire ring, and a corral trap to lure them in with bait into an iron pen.

The traps are often set on animal trails, resulting in the capture of Tsushima cats. The cats may weaken and could die if they remain trapped for a prolonged time.

As of March 2, 56 cats have been trapped since 1992 when such records began to be kept, with some caught twice. Of those cases, 70% were caught mostly over the last 10 years, with 17 falling into a snare trap, and 23 into a corral trap and seven of them dying. Increased numbers of traps from strengthened varmint control led to an surge in the number of injures to the cats.

The center is asking trap setters to check once a day for Tsushima cats and to adjust the traps so that their legs can slip through the wire ring even if they are caught.

However, the island’s hunting clubs’ 200 or so members are allowed to set up to 30 traps each, and it is not financially or technologically feasible for the center to monitor traps by installing surveillance cameras or other means.

On the other hand, the city faces the dilemma of being unable to reduce traps as it needs them to prevent crop damage.

A member in his 60s said: “I won’t be able to find out about any animals caught until the next day’s rounds if they get caught immediately after patrolling. There is a limit to what we can do.”