50 kilometers away from Hiroshima lies Ōkunoshima, a small island in Japan, that is popularly known as Rabbit Island as it is occupied by hundreds of federal European rabbits. Yes, you read that right. Rather than being occupied by humans, this island is occupied by thousands of cute bunnies.
Now, you must be wondering why this island was left abandoned in the first place?
Well, during 1929, the Japanese government secretly tested poison gas on this island and rabbits were brought to the island as test subjects for the chemical weapons.
However, some people say the rabbits that are currently living on the island are descendants of the originals while, experts say the test rabbits were euthanized after operations shut down.
So, no one really knows how the rabbits got to the island in the first place.
Some rumours also suggest that a British couple brought the bunnies to the island or a nearby school released them in 1971.
In 2017, there were about 300 rabbits inhabiting the island but now their population is estimated to be between 700-1000.
Initially, no one knew about the island but in 2014 a video of a woman being stampede by bunnies went viral on social media and since then, these rabbits have drawn visitors to the island.
After the viral video, Ōkunoshima was visited by 2,54,000 tourists in 2015, out of which, 17,000 tourists were from outside Japan. And this has become a problem.
You see, some people get carrots, lettuce and cabbage to feed the rabbits but this diet is poisoning them. How so? Large amounts of these snacks is toxic for the rabbits because their sensitive digestive system has difficulty breaking down the vegetable.
What we don't realize is that these rabbits also need high-fiber foods to lead a healthy lifestyle but with the current meal plan, that is becoming a growing concern.
There are signs put all over the island dissuading people from feeding the rabbits, picking them up or chasing them for obvious reasons.
But, during winters, tourists are encouraged to feed the rabbits when food is particularly scarce since there isn’t enough food and space for so many rabbits on an island that is only two square miles.
Because unlike hardier animals, rabbits need to eat every day but with the current diet plan they may eat lavishly one day and starve later in the week, depending on the weather and the tourism.
The island hosts Kyukamura Ōkunoshima Hotel, along with a golf course and the gas museum. Apart from these places, there isn't much on the island.
So, the rabbits have no choice but to depend on us humans because residual toxins have poisoned the groundwater since no major decontamination operation was carried out on Rabbit Island after it was used for chemical testing.
Most rabbits visit Kyukamura Ōkunoshima Hotel to be fed and watered. However, some rabbits also have injuries and illnesses from human contact and many are also killed by people driving cars on the island.
As the number of tourists continue to rise, the plan for what to do with the permamnent residents of this island still remains ambiguous.
Takasahi Sekhi from the Ministry of the Environment who visited this island a few years ago on government business said, "With the increase of tourists, the rabbits have become accustomed to humans. Measures for managing the wild animals are dictated by the hotel. Excessive artificial intervention is undesirable."
It's clear that the bunnies on Rabbit Island need proper care and support. We hope the government of Japan comes up with a solution that won't harm the rabbits livelihood in any way in order for them to thrive.
Click here to know how to reach this island.