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September 4, 2013

Japan Must Improve Disaster Planning for Animals

Animal protection authorities failed animals following Fukushima nuclear accident

Humane Society International

  • Animal welfare groups want improved legislation to include animals in disaster planning in Japan. Iwane Myachi

TOKYO—A new report commissioned by Humane Society International details numerous failures to rescue companion and farm animals in the wake of the East Japan Great Earthquake and Fukushima nuclear accident. A research team from Kitasato University, under the direction of Professor Nobuhiko Ito, produced the report.

While the events in March 2011 were in many ways unprecedented, the report concludes that relatively few of the companion animals in the exclusion zone around the damaged reactors were evacuated with their owners or rescued. Far fewer farm animals were rescued or euthanized, and most starved to death. Changes must be made in how animals are managed and treated in such situations.   

The report is believed to be the first publication to examine the impacts of a nuclear accident on animals. It also explores the extent of the radiation impact on animals and suggests approaches for handling animal rescue efforts following nuclear accidents. 

During a packed, two-day conference, at which the report was released, animal welfare groups called on Japanese authorities to improve legislative and other efforts to include animals in disaster planning. The conference, hosted by HSI and Japanese Coalition for Animal Welfare, brought together researchers, policymakers and animal advocates.

Andrew Rowan, CEO and president of HSI, said: “In assessing the lessons learned after Hurricane Katrina in the United States, the U.S. government began requiring emergency management officials to take into account the needs of individuals with pets and service animals during disasters. We call on Japan to take similar action. Animals suffered tremendously after the Fukushima nuclear accident as they did in the devastation wrought by Katrina. Japanese authorities should enact similar legislation to not only encourage but also support owners who wish to take their animals with them and to authorize humane management options for those animals left behind.”

Koichi Aoki, the representative of JCAW, said: “The rescue of pets during a disaster protects the health of owners and alleviates stress. As the government is working on creating a system for people to evacuate with their pets during a disaster, JCAW will continue to provide input. In addition, there is an urgent need to develop a system for the rescue of farm animals and the protection of agriculture. There is also a need to address the issue of feral farm animals that were released after the Fukushima disaster, the increase of wildlife due to changes in the environment, and the management of animals who have no clearly defined owners, such as those from schools or used for exhibitions.”

Key conclusions from the report:

  • Animals should have been permitted to leave with their owners during the onset of the nuclear accident in which return to homes would be restricted following the disaster. An estimated 0.3 percent of evacuees evacuated with their pets following the Fukushima accident.
  • The contamination of companion animals left behind was not as severe as expected. Most animals could be decontaminated simply by washing.
  • Humane management procedures must be developed for farm animals following a disaster.
  • Processes for either evacuating or caring for animals kept in schools, zoos and other institutions following a disaster must be developed.

A summary of the report in English or Japanese is available from the media contacts listed below. A copy of the full report in English is also available.

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Media Contact:
HSI (United States): Rebecca Basu, +1 (240-753-4875), rbasu@humanesociety.org

Humane Society International and its partner organizations together constitute one of the world's largest animal protection organizations. For nearly 20 years, HSI has been working for the protection of all animals through the use of science, advocacy, education and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty worldwide—on the Web at hsi.org.

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