Top News Okinawa limits access to Iriomote to protect indigenous cat By Kathryn Wortley / Posted on 9 April, 2023 11:58 Iriomote island in Okinawa, Japan is imposing a cap on visitors in a bid to prevent overtourism as travel returns. Starting from this month, only 1,200 visitors are permitted to enter the island daily, equating to 33,000 annually. The local government is concerned that a rebound of tourism to pre-pandemic levels would endanger the habit of its rare and indigenous Iriomote cat. Death toll of Okinawa’s rare and indigenous Iriomote cat is on the rise as tourism returns to Iriomote island The subtropical destination is Okinawa’s second-largest island but its population of 2,400 is concentrated around its northern and eastern shores as much of the island is covered in subtropical forest. Its popularity was on the rise pre-pandemic, with 290,000 visitors in 2019. However, the past decade of tourism growth brought a rise in traffic accidents involving Iriomote cats. In 2020, when the island closed to tourists, no Iriomote cats were killed on the road. As tourists returned to the island over 2021 to 2022, eight cats were killed and several more injured, according to local government data. Since Iriomote became part of Japan’s newest UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site (covering Amami-Oshima, Tokunoshima, northern mainland Okinawa and Iriomote) in July 2021, support has been growing to protect the habit of the islands’ rare endemic species, including the Amami rabbit and Iriomote cat. The cat is classified as “critically endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and is designated a natural monument by the Okinawa government. An estimated 100 adult cats inhabited the island as of 2007, predominantly in its subtropical forests, making Iriomote the smallest habitat of any wild cat species in the world. The visitor cap is designed to “minimise the effects caused by tourists on nature and the local community,” according to the Okinawan department of environment affairs, which noted that the number of island sites open to guided tours will also be limited. Although the restrictions are not compulsory, the Okinawan government is urging travel agents to comply with them.