Yanbaru Wildlife Conservation Center
Lush green forests, alluring mangroves, cascading waterfalls and unique wildlife draw visitors to this pristine paradise. But the survival of these natural treasures depends on local community support.
Residents of the rural communities that surround Yanbaru Kuina habitat in Okinawa’s northernmost island have embraced this endemic species. It is important to understand the factors that influence this engagement, including the importance of engaging younger generations.
Experience the untamed beauty of Yanbaru
Yanbaru forests are a biodiversity hotspot in Japan with high levels of endemism and home to 8% of mammal, 25% of reptile and 35% of vascular plant species found throughout the nation (Ito et al. 2000). These forests are also inhabited by a variety of rare and endangered species, including the critically endangered Okinawa rail (Hypotaenidia okinawae) (Kui-chan, the Yanbaru Kuina Wildlife Conservation Center mascot).
Located in the village of Kunigami, visitors to the park can learn more about the local fauna and the conservation efforts that are being undertaken. Visitors are invited to engage with nature and create priceless memories in this untamed paradise.
However, whilst this thriving ecosystem is an economic drawcard for the region and provides the basis for community events and activities, it is not without its challenges. Human activities pose a direct threat to the bird’s small population and therefore conservation success will require education and engagement programs that produce solutions to avoid accidental Yanbaru Kuina mortality.
Explore the wonders of the forest
With its pristine subtropical forests, limestone mountains and mangroves, Yanbaru is the home to a unique array of plants and animals, including the endemic Okinawa rail bird. It is also a natural playground, with waterfall hikes, canoe and kayak adventures and excursions to secluded beaches.
The endemic Okinawa rail bird is a popular symbol of the area, and visitors to the region often seek out doughnuts with a likeness of the bird on them (Kunigami Village 2015c). The charismatic appeal of the Yanbaru Kuina and its inextricable link to the local forest ecosystem may have helped foster strong community attachment to this species.
In turn, this may help to drive interest in conservation efforts targeting the many human-mediated factors that contribute to its decline. It should be noted, however, that such efforts will not always succeed, especially when they are entangled in controversial political issues such as US military base operations and development projects. (Yanbaru Wildlife Conservation Center 2010a).
Take a break from the hustle and bustle of the city
The subtropical forests and limestone mountains of Yanbaru attract hikers and nature enthusiasts to a region rich in biodiversity. Visitors can enjoy waterfall hikes, canoeing and kayaking excursions to secluded beaches, and wildlife watching.
The endemic Okinawa rail is particularly captivating. The bird has garnered interest in conservation efforts and local communities, drawing investment by both government and community stakeholders in facilities to educate visitors about the species and the habitat it occupies.
These outreach activities have included the creation of mascots to facilitate engagement with the bird, including Kukuru-kun, who appears at community events and is represented on products such as doughnuts (Japan Self-Defense Forces Okinawa 2015a). However, community opposition to feral cat eradication suggests that cultural values and attitudes toward human-wildlife interactions can remain major stumbling blocks for conservation in this complex context.
As a result, it will be important for future conservation strategies to better integrate opportunities for social learning and to foster more inclusive approaches to environmental education and public awareness in the region.
Enjoy a relaxing getaway
Whether you want to enjoy a stroll around the forest or encounter wild animals, you can find it all at this one-stop center. With ample parking and hot showers, you can spend the night here in your car (auto camping) or reserve a stay at its well-appointed accommodation complex equipped with shared spaces for meal preparation.
Yanbaru’s subtropical evergreen forests and mangroves provide habitat for indigenous animals and plants. Its pristine natural beauty led to its designation as a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site along with Iromote and Amami-Okinawa in 2016.
Amid its rich environment, Yanbaru features limestone sea cliffs that rise from the clear waters surrounding Kagoshima prefecture’s Yoron Island. These limestone karst landscapes have long been regarded as sacred. You can also experience the power of nature in its full glory at Cape Hedo, which has a breathtaking view over emerald green oceans and lush forests. The cliff’s edge is topped with a giant banyan tree called “Ugan gajumaru” that symbolizes the mysticism and sanctity of this region.