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What the heck is the ‘Yamapikarya’?

mystery big cats of Iriomote island

A sense of adventure has always been something burning away inside of me. I would often find my imagination drifting off on adventures to lost lands, discovering mystery big cats in jungles with no names or encountering a lost tribe for the first time. As a wayward young lad growing up on the South Coast of England I would wish away the weekdays in order to be free of my schooling shackles. With each weekend came the opportunity to explore the huge expanses of forest and marshlands that, back then, surrounded my childhood home. Sounds weird in the modern age but back then this was normal for most kids in a pre LCD / Internet / Video Game era. But I still found ways to kick the arse out of things. I mean do you know of any other five year old that would wake at 5am, head to the kitchen, take a slice of bread, a pint of milk and basically leg it for the day? I often wondered why the Police would be at my front door at 9pm, some 14hrs later, the sting of discipline could never dull the pleasure I got from each of my similar adventures.

Bless my dearly departed grandmother, with whom my sister and I grew up with in those formative years. I’m sure her head of silver hair, at age 35, was, in part, down to my antics. I couldn’t help it. Then, as now, the calling of adventure and open spaces simply claws at me whenever I cast my eyes and mind away from the drudgery of a normal daily existence. If I find myself on an island for example I’m left hoping there is no view to another island for if there is I find myself restless until I see what that other island holds. As a kid I used to find myself gazing at maps of distant lands, looking at town, village and city names. I’d often drift into daydreams of how such places could be, the vibrance of the people, the food, the aromas, the wildlife but above all the fun of the expedition.

This behavioural trait resides in me to this day. I would have thought that by now I’d have had enough wanderlust to last a lifetime but I still find that spark of intrigue whenever something truly outstanding pops along. We all live, or at least I do, with the personal goal of potentially doing something that no-one else has ever accomplished. Whether that’s to climb a specific mountain, swim a certain sea, walk a certain route or create something so visually compelling that it captivates the World. As the technological age races ahead the World becomes smaller, more congested and to a point a lot more accessible. Places we could never have expect to see or visit just ten years ago are now readily exploited as viable tourist destinations. Where or what presents the challenge these days? Most rivers have been run, Oceans rowed and hills climbed.

Discovery is not a destination. Discovery comes to those prepared to venture on sometimes nothing more than heresay into the unknown. Or as in some cases, into the known, where species new to science although seen by residents remain to be recognised scientifically. I mean look at the Okinawa Rail, a flightless bird that inhabits the Northern forest areas known as the ‘Yanbaru’. Although local inhabitants of the region knew of the bird dating back many tens of years its presence wasn’t officially confirmed until 1978, it took a further 3yrs to describe the species.

Okinawa islands tend to share this trait of cloaking the natural World from the outside. When you look at the high number of endemic species on the main island and think that many of them could have very well evolved post World War 2. Given that the island was pretty much bombarded to oblivion and back that may become a valid point. Thus it seems to be a factor when also considering the natural history of other islands in the region, notably the island of Iriomote.

mystery big cats

Welcome to Iriomote, an island of waterfalls, dense jungles, mangroves and swamps. And mystery big cats!

Covering some 290sq/km of landmass the island of Iriomote is the penultimate island in distance from the Japanese mainland. With no airport it remains largely undeveloped and has actually been declared a National park by the government. Almost 95% of the island remains covered in thick jungle permeated with rivers, swamps, mangroves and streams. With such a high propensity of waterfalls only those rising to 10m / 33ft or greater have been named. Inhabited by a local population of just some 2500 souls this second largest landmass in the Okinawa prefecture is a veritable ‘lost World’. It is an island to where I have thus far traveled three times, mainly to photograph the Milky Way in its inky dark skies, and now a new incentive has plunged its hooks into my imagination. It was something I had often daydreamed of discovering as a kid, mystery big cats!

Known as the jungle home to what is called the ‘Yamaneko’ or Wild Mountain Cat in the local Yaeyama Islands dialect its green expanse is also the home by all accounts to a mystery big cat species that has been documented as being encountered some 47 times since the 1950’s. The big question on many peoples lips is simple “What are these mystery big cats that keep getting seen by wild boar hunters”? The answer is as yet unanswered, and that in itself is like showing a red blanket to a Bull in my book. Imaging being able to film and photograph the mystery big cats that have thus far been labelled ‘Yamapikarya’ (cat with Golden Spots)? The implications are far reaching indeed.

It’s a challenge that’s calling my name, and if it’s something that piques your brand or personal interest then please feel free to contact me to see how you can also be a part of this.

To be continued…..

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