Longtime readers will remember our posts (here and here) on Japanese island Ōkunoshima, uninhabited but for the many, many rabbits living there. (The island is also known as Usagi Shima – "Rabbit Island.") Here's a new video of the island bunnies swarming a tourist with treats!
Prior to informally becoming Usagi Shima, Ōkunoshima was home to a poison gas factory that produced mustard and tear gas before and during World War II; to keep their chemical weaponry a secret, the Japanese government even removed the island from some maps. Now, though, the island is open to tourists, who can visit not only all those bunnies, but also the Ōkunoshima Poison Gas Museum.
As for how the rabbits got there? There is much speculation; as we wrote previously, the Mainichi Daily News says the following:
It is believed that rabbits were first taken to the island in 1971, after an elementary school in Takehara found it difficult to keep the animals at school. According to the Kyukamura Okunoshima resort hotel, most of the visitors to the island consisted of students on school study trips and senior tourists.
However, as the island became known as a rabbit habitat, the hotel began to receive more reservations from young women and families. The rabbits became popular for their adorable gesture asking for food.
Other websites posit that rabbits meant for animal testing at the poison gas factory were set free when the plant closed; Hatsuichi Murakami, who worked at the plant as a young man and who eventually became the museum's director, apparently indicates in this interview (in Japanese) that today's bunnies are not, in fact, descendants of the factory's bunnies. (Ed.: Due to translation issues, I have not yet been able to verify that statement.)
Has anyone here been lucky enough to visit the bunnies at Usagi Shima?