3:05 am, July 24, 2016
A research team has succeeded in mapping the genome of the endangered Yanbaru kuina, or Okinawa rail, which lives only in the Yanbaru area in the northern part of Okinawa Island. This is the first time a rare species indigenous to Japan has been genetically mapped.
Comprising members of the National Institute for Environmental Studies (NIES), Kyoto University and other entities, the team will further study the rails’ DNA in terms of breeding capacity and resistance to disease to ensure favorable reproduction of the birds. They also will map the genomes of other rare indigenous species.
The Yanbaru kuina, discovered in 1981, is the only flightless bird to inhabit Japan. It once was found throughout the Yanbaru area, but the number decreased drastically after mongooses were introduced to get rid of habu snakes.
In 2006, the Environment Ministry designated the rails as “critically endangered,” the highest risk of extinction. Currently, there are an estimated 1,500 Yanbaru kuina.
The ministry began a project to breed and reproduce the birds in 2008 as part of its protection measures. It succeeded in increasing the number of the rails to about 70 at a private facility in Yanbaru. However, there is a possibility the birds will contract a disease that causes tumors on the legs or that they will not survive if they are released into the wild.