Photo/IllutrationThe “oasis” of the famed Tottori Sand Dunes in Tottori (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

TOTTORI--"Pokemon Go" players will no longer be allowed to search for the virtual creatures near a pond of the famed Tottori Sand Dunes, where they may have nearly stomped out a real-life beetle species.

Access to an area of 3,500 square meters around a pond called "oasis" in the dunes will be restricted and roped off to protect the endangered cylindela elisae. The insect's number plummeted to a crisis level after the launch of the smartphone app game in 2016.

The area is designated a natural treasure as well as a special protection zone of Sanin Kaigan national park.

Although the restriction could impact the stunning vistas of a Tottori landmark, the plan was confirmed on March 26 during a conference on regeneration of the Tottori Sand Dunes by officials of the prefecture and the Environment Ministry and others.

The prefecture is scheduled to rope off the site in early April after obtaining permission of the ministry and the Cultural Affairs Agency. It plans to continue the restriction for at least a year and a half until the number of the species has sufficiently recovered.

“If we don't call for the need to protect rare species inhabiting the dunes, they will move closer to extinction,” said Nobuo Tsurusaki, a professor of animal ecology at Tottori University.

In the Tottori Sand Dunes, cylindela elisae only inhabit the area around the oasis, according to Tsurusaki, who has studied the species in the dunes.

Cylindera elisae measure 9 millimeters to 11 mm and often live in wet sandy soil at the mouth of rivers. The species is listed as endangered in the Red Data book of five prefectures, including Tokyo. The insects have been spotted in several areas in Tottori Prefecture other than the dunes.

The estimated number of the species found in the dunes has dropped sharply in recent years, as its estimated number was 2,300 in 2015, 1,460 in 2016 and 153 in 2017. A figure below 500 is considered the level at which a species is in danger of extinction.

The shocking drop in the number appears to be the result of sparse rainfall and the rise in temperatures at the Earth's surface induced by the light rain, coupled with the "Pokemon Go" app, which was released in July 2016, according to Tsurusaki.

The prefecture formerly attempted to take advantage of the global phenomenon “Pokemon Go” for tourism promotion, recommending that visitors play the game on the dunes, which swelled their numbers.

However, the prefecture reportedly took measures before a major "Pokemon Go" event in November 2017 to not let Pokemon appear in the area around the oasis, in response to a request from Tsurusaki. The event drew about 90,000 visitors to the dunes over three days.

Tsurusaki wants to avoid a similar fate that befell the calomera angulate in the dunes, which are believed to have died out as the species has not been spotted since 1997.

Tsurusaki believes that the dramatic drop in the species was mainly the result of weed-removal work on the dunes that started since 1991, which caused the elimination of insects that the beetle fed on.