The Okinawan Rail is a medium-sized flightless bird that was officially discovered in 1981 in the northern region of Okinawa Main Island. This area is known locally as Yanbaru, which is why the bird is called Yanbaru Kuina in the vernacular.
Yanbaru Kuina are easily identified by the red beak, eyes and legs and vividly striped torso. Their wings are vestigial but the strong muscles in their highly developed legs enable them to jump to considerable heights and even to climb trees, which they do at night to sleep safely away from venomous snakes.
These birds are classified as endangered and declared a “National Natural Monument,” which means they are legally protected. Their main threat comes from alien intruders such as mongoose, which were introduced as a means of controlling the population of pit vipers in the region. There are also feral dogs and cats roaming the Yanbaru forests, and the incidence of traffic collisions is on the rise.
It was last estimated in 2004 that only around 720 of these birds existed in the wild, but owing to recent conservation efforts and breeding programs it is believed that the total number of Okinawa Rails has increased to about 1500.
We visited such a facility in Kunigami Village, which houses a 4-year-old female Okinawa Rail called KyonKyon. The staff member who introduced us to KyonKyon was very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the birds, and thanks to her we had an educational and memorable experience. You can find out more about their work on their Facebook page: Okinawa Rail Ecology Centre
We were lucky enough to catch the rare sight of KyonKyon taking a bath in the pond in her enclosure. We captured it on video and uploaded it for you to see here.
We look forward to seeing how Okinawa Rail conservation is going to progress in the future. If you have a chance, please go visit KyonKyon, the idol of Kunigami!