The Iriomote cat lives only on the island of Iriomote, off Japan. A subspecies of the leopard cat, it is viewed by many biologists as a "living fossil," being not much changed from its primitive form. First described by Dr. Imaizumi of Tokyo’s National Science Museum in 1967, this wild cat is about the size of a domestic cat, and has the characteristic elongated body, low-slung build and short legs of a predator that forages in thick undergrowth. These animals in the wild live for 7-8 years, and 8-9 in captivity, with the longest lifespan known in captivity to be 15 years.
The Iriomote cat is endemic to Iriomote Island only, the southernmost island in the Ryukyu Archipelago of Japan. This island is mountainous, with broadleaf, evergreen, subtropical rainforests. Along its estuaries are mangroves and there are beaches and areas of cultivated land. Iriomote cats can be found all over this island, usually near to a water source. They avoid heavily populated areas.
Iriomote cats are usually solitary, but some may form pairs during breeding. Their territories measure 1 to 3 sq km, with males having larger territories than females. The territories of males can overlap, whereas those of females are less likely to. Females have home ranges that are more stable and they seem to use the same feeding site for a number of years, whereas males change the areas where they are active after several months. These cats are mainly active from evening until early morning, but occasionally they hunt during the day, when apparently they prey upon a species of skink that is diurnal. During the mating season they are also active during the day, and the breeding females show more activity than the nonbreeding ones during late night and morning. Although often travelling along the ground, these cats are good tree climbers, which indicates that they spend some time hunting or at rest in trees.
Iriomote cats are carnivores, they eat almost all the animals on the island, including small mammals (like fruit bats and rats), frogs, birds, snakes, lizards, insects and sometimes fish and crabs.
Outside of the mating season, Iriomote cats are solitary, but during the time of breeding they act together, which suggests they may exhibit a serially monogamous mating system (mating with only one partner in one breeding season). The breeding season appears to be mainly from winter to spring, with most mating probably taking place from February to March, because the months of birth are April to July. Gestation lasts for about 60 days, with females giving birth to 1 - 2 young. Youngsters grow rapidly and are weaned when 2 -3 months old. At 4 - 5 months old they are independent, and they reach maturity when they are 8 months to one year old.
The greatest threat to the Iriomote cat is interbreeding and competition with feral domestic cats. Inbreeding among themselves, because it is a single population, combined with interbreeding, strongly dilutes this species’ genetic integrity and thus threatens its existence, as well as exposing it to a wide range of introduced diseases. The development and expansion of the island for tourism is damaging the natural habitat due to the development of roads (leading to road deaths), dams, hotels, airports, etc.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total Iriomote cat population size is around 100-110 individuals. Currently this species is classified as Critically Endangered (CR) and its numbers today continue to decrease.
Iriomote cats in this island ecosystem are key predators, preying on a range of organisms.