With not one but two Cat Islands, Japan is known for having tiny islands with significant populations of cute domestic animals. There is also a Rabbit Island in Japan, also known as Usagi Jima, and there, tourists can learn of its dark past.
It all started in 1971 when an elementary school released just eight rabbits on Ōkunoshima. With no predators to worry about these fast-breeding mammals may have multiplied (as they are famous for doing) to their present population which is reported to be in the thousands. That means they’re not technically wild rabbits, but they’re certainly a huge colony of feral, domesticated rabbits who have populated the island for over 40 years.
Today, there is a huge kawaii appeal to Rabbit Island. Japan, however, hasn’t always been about cuteness.
According to The Guardian, between 1929-1945, long before the rabbits were introduced, the Imperial Japanese Government set up a factory that manufactured various chemical weapons. Since the Geneva Protocol banned the use of chemical weapons in warfare, Ōkunoshima was virtually wiped from the map. It became a secret place because of its discreet location and distance from civilian populations.
Sadly, there were some test rabbits for the chemical weapons introduced in 1929, but it has been reported that American troops euthanized them in the late 1940s. There is no proof that the bunnies today are direct ancestors from their wartime friends.
Bunny island is not a theme park
There may be an unfortunate side effect of the newfound popularity of Rabbit Island. According to researchers who spoke with takepart.com, all the visitors feeding the feral bunnies has led to an unsustainable population boom that has destroyed the island’s ecosystem.
Similarly, what and when the rabbits are fed is wreaking havoc on their health resulting in only a two-year lifespan. They are often given cabbage, not the best choice for bunnies since it can cause bloat and is low in fiber, something the animals need a lot of to stay healthy. The boom and bust cycle of being fed a ton of food on sunny days during holidays and nothing at all on rainy days when no one comes to visit is compounding the problem since rabbits need a steady amount of food and there is very little vegetation left on the island for them to eat when tourists aren’t around.
MODERN FARMER: “Japan has an island full of rabbits but this small island has a dark history.”