April 8, 2011
Facing Challenges in Japan
by Bernard Unti
The HSI disaster response team is now operating in Fukushima Prefecture, working with Japanese animal welfare partners at the perimeter of the no-access zone established near the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station by Japan’s military and police authorities.
The HSI team is helping to set up feeding stations along the periphery of the forbidden district in order to lure animal survivors to its borders, where they can be saved. After determining whether and what kind of animals are visiting the stations, they will turn their attention to capture, treatment, and rescue, as necessary. They will also train Japanese responders to manage the stations.
The members of the HSI team were in Tokyo when the 7.1 earthquake rattled the island nation on April 7, and felt it only slightly, although the tsunami warning forced them to postpone the day’s planned deployment.
Obstacles to aid
The overall situation for animal survivors in Fukushima Prefecture is daunting. The authorities are typically not permitting people to enter the exclusion zone because of radiation dangers.
A few responders have been travelling from Niigata on Japan’s west coast to try to rescue pets around the reactor, but it is a four-hour journey one way. One car of responders left Niigata a few days ago to rescue a dog someone had previously seen in Fukushima, only to be turned back empty-handed by the authorities who would not allow them into the exclusion zone. It was a discouraging eight-hour round trip with no result.
Animals in need
Emerging reports concerning starving and irradiated animals within the 20-30 km forbidden zone affirm both the urgency and the complexity of rescue challenges there. The HSI team plans to work with Japanese organizations to develop field and sheltering operations, including the establishment of a decontamination station for animals.
A number of farmers who evacuated the Fukushima disaster zone under pressure have returned to find their cattle starving and dead. An April 6 Agence France Presse article on farmers who have ignored the ban on access and traveled back to their properties suggests that as many as 10,000 cattle and thousands of other farm animals were left to fend for themselves.
Some reach safety
In a more positive development, the U.S. government announced that it had transported some 235 pets of American military personnel out of Japan with their families since March 11. With various partners stateside, Humane Society International has been working for some time to encourage the adoption of protocols for just this kind of orderly transportation of pets with their people. The pet-friendly response by the Department of Defense to the Japanese crisis sets the stage for a better overall approach to such scenarios in the future.
Bernard Unti, Ph.D, is senior policy advisor and special assistant to the CEO/president of The Humane Society of the United States.