The Rabbit Island – Japan

Rabbit Island Ferry

Two miles off the coast of Takehara, in the Prefecture of Hiroshima, is an island that is run by rabbits. The rabbit population is immense here, and they have no worries about predators. This is Rabbit Island in Japan.

There are upwards of 1000 rabbits that live on Usagi Jima. Wild rabbits, spend their days relaxing and being photographed by the tourists that visit the island. Rabbit Island is not all perfect as it sounds. There is a dark history to Rabbit Island, one that was so secret that the Japanese erased the hidden facility from all maps of Japan.

The Dark History of Rabbit Island

At one time, the Japanese Imperial Army used a facility on this island to manufacture Poisonous gas, mustard gas, phosgene that was used against the Chinese and civilians in the 1930s and 1940s during a war in China. This gas was in part responsible for killing upwards of 80,000 people.

It is difficult to say for sure how the rabbits got on the island, but populating the island was not much of a challenge for the feral rabbits. One thought is that rabbits were brought to the Island to use for testing of these gases that were being manufactured there. This has ultimately led us to the understanding that the workers of the chemical plant were kind enough to let the Rabbits go so they could have their freedom.

According to one source that had been interviewed by ‘The Dodo’, Ellis Krauss stated that all the rabbits used for the testing had been euthanized by the Americans when they made it to the Island.  This would mean that none of the rabbits that are here now were left from the bunnies that were tested on.

How The Rabbits Became Dependent to Tourist

There is a second theory that states that roughly eight bunnies had been released by a group of school children in the 1970s. This Island would be the perfect habitat for the rabbits to grow and multiply, as rabbits do best. There are no felines or canines allowed on the Island, there is also no hunting allowed on the island.

There is an issue that has developed with all the tourists visiting the island and also leaving food for the feral rabbits who live on the island. There has been a population boom which leads to an unsustainable ecosystem.

The choice of food given to these rabbits has been a cabbage. Cabbage is not an ideal food for rabbits. It causes bloating and digestive issues. Rabbits need to consume a lot of fiber to maintain their health. Cabbage does not have much fiber in it.

Another issue with the tourists feeding the rabbits is that the rabbits do not feed off the ecosystem due to the deterioration of it. This means they rely on food brought by tourists. If the days are sunny and decent temperatures out, tourists arrive. If the weather is rainy, there are no tourists, which means no food for the rabbits.

Steady Food Supply For Rabbits

A rabbit needs a steady supply of food, not just intermittent food being left for them. This has now led to a life span of just two years for the majority of the rabbits on Rabbit Island.

As pretty as the island may sound with all the adorable bunnies, it is not as it seems. Sure, there is the resort, which the tourists stay at. None of that is a benefit to the rabbits on rabbit island. Many of the rabbits have injuries that cannot be treated. Many have parasites from the island.

These rabbits are technically starving. They do eat what is given to them, however, this is not the diet that a rabbit needs. They need good quality hay, such as Timothy hay, they need greens such as spinach, kale, and not cabbage which is what most tourists provide these rabbits.

The rabbits need a daily supply of freshwater. Far up on the island, some rabbits get the water from springs, this does not give water to the rabbits on the lower areas of the island.

Although the island sounds like an ideal spot for rabbits to reside, it is far from that. The natural ecosystem is almost destroyed. The thousands of rabbits have eaten what can be eaten and there is not enough time for plants to reach the full growth stage before they are chewed down.

The rabbits appear to be super friendly. However, the truth is they know that tourists bring food. That is what they want. They come near the tourists to be given food.  Even then, their bellies may be full, but they are filled with the wrong type of food. The cabbage is not healthy for a rabbit, the pellets are not a complete nutritious food supply.

What Can Be Done?

There have been, and still are some people who have suggestions, ideas, and recommendations of how to help Rabbit Island and the thousands of rabbits residing on the island. However, this cannot be done by one person alone. It will take many to see this all through.

The fact will remain, how much would this help the rabbits living on the island, is yet to be seen. All in writing, the ideas are fantastic and would seemingly work. But, again, those rabbits need more than one person to do what needs to be done.

  1. The small store that is available at the ferry launch needs to have more than just rabbit pellets available. The ideal rabbit diet includes Timothy hay, fresh greens, certain vegetables and fresh water. Where this becomes an issue is no one supplies this to the store. The store stocks what they can, products that have a shelf life. As we know, hay and fresh greens do spoil, as well as fresh vegetables.
  2. Water is also an issue. Although it is surrounded by water, this water is not suitable for consumption by humans or animals. Rabbits are also territorial creatures, which means that the springs that are located on the island are basically held captive by some of the rabbits and not shared. Tourists can supply some water to the water dishes that are located around the resort on the island. However, again, this is not a steady supply of water, which is needed.
  3. Even if the shop and the resort had the fresh items needed for the rabbits, who will feed them all daily? Who will pay the ferry fees to transport the food across the water to the island?  There are thousands of rabbits living on Rabbit Island, how does one supply enough food without the risk of the food getting spoiled.
  4. Obviously there are two good aspects to this suggestion of feeding the rabbits fresh greens and hay. First, this means the rabbits are at least getting the nutrition they need. Secondly, it will give the natural ecosystem a chance to regrow. The negative in regards to supplying fresh hay and greens, along with acceptable vegetables is that the rabbits will grow even more dependent on humans for food.
  5. For those who have plans to visit the island, it is highly suggested that you buy as much of the needed items as possible before you get to the port. Walking the trails of the island has never been an issue, so the plan to place the fresh greens, hay, and vegetables in scattered areas across the island is not difficult to do. The negative issue here is to have this done on a routine basis each day throughout the year. Even if this means another method of arriving at Rabbit Island on the days that the ferry does not run.
  6. There are organizations that can be contacted in regards to Rabbit Island, such as PETA, Asia branch. There is also The Animal Welfare Group in Japan, and one can also contact the Ministry of the Environment in Japan. Each of these places may have suggestions on how to donate or help care for the rabbits inhabiting Rabbit Island.
  7. In 2019, a young child sent a letter to the Japanese newspaper requesting volunteers and assistance for the rabbits. This young child suggested gardens be grown on the island, volunteers to maintain those gardens and volunteers to feed the rabbits. If a young child knows what is needed, you would want to believe that adults can help change the situation.

Final Thought

As quaint and beautiful of a place as Rabbit Island is made out to be, the truth is quite different. When there is enough food for the rabbits, it may be tranquil there, however, when you have thousands of starving animals, all of which know that tourists bring food, there will be the issue of these animals chasing and overrunning the humans. 

This is the time, there needs to be assistance for these animals before they become a true danger to all who visit the island. I, as well as others, do not feel it was meant to become this crowded and overrun by rabbits. This is not a normal habitat for the rabbits and maybe this is what needs to change.

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