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Okinawa’s flightless bird faces increasing danger

Date Posted: 2007-08-02

A bird unique to northern Okinawa is finding itself more at risk from predators and humans than ever before.

The Okinawa rail is already on the endangered specials list established by the Environment Ministry, and its population is still declining. The Okinawa rail lives only in northern Okinawa, in the Yambaru area. The bird, which cannot fly, is encountering habitat restrictions caused by both human growth and increases in animal enemies such as the mongoose. Feral dogs and cats also hunt the bird.

Automobiles are taking a toll, too. Already this year, 14 Okinawa rails have been hit by cars, killing ten. In all of last year, 13 were hit and 10 died. The birds’ mating season, which runs April through July, brought the birds to more open areas, near roads and along the forest floor, in search of food. An environmental wildlife preservation group official says drivers should be more careful, and slow down when driving in forest areas, so the birds can coexist with society.

A Bird Life International official warns the Okinawa rail, like many other forms of flightless rails, are in danger because of “their high incidence of extinction.” The Yambaru area, home to the flightless bird, is also the setting for other problems with its animal, bird, amphibian and reptilian species. The area is absorbing far more birds per measured land area, 233 times more than mainland Japan, a number only slightly higher than the figure for amphibians.

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