The Current Situation Concerning the Handling of Animals Affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake
Nobuhiko ITO, Director, Kitasato Institute,
Dean, School of Veterinary Medicine, Kitasato University
The reason why the Great East Japan Earthquake has produced a totally different situation from that of any previous major earthquake is that it has resulted in radioactive contamination across a wide area. This in turn has created three additional special problems for those engaged in animal rescue activities. Firstly, rescue workers have been exposed to radioactivity in some places where they were performing rescue activities; secondly, affected animals were exposed to both external and internal contamination by radioactive matter; and thirdly, rescue workers were not permitted access to the caution zone within a 20km radius of the damaged nuclear power plant.
The fate of many animals left inside the caution zone when their owners disappeared was not death caused by radiation but pain and death from starvation. But even in these circumstances, some of the animals whose owners deliberately released them from their cages or chains survived. In the case of dogs, cats, etc., sheltering activities have been continued with reference to the guideline document, “Methods of coping with radioactive contamination of animals’ bodies – urgent tentative measures”. This was introduced on the website of the Japan Veterinary Medical Association. However, with regard to farm animals, the chief of the Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters ordered Fukushima Prefecture to euthanize livestock within the caution zone. Nevertheless, the current situation is that more than 1,000 runaway cattle and many feral pigs still survive within the caution zone. Animals within the zone have internal radioactive contamination and have become difficult to control so it is becoming harder to capture them safely.
In the face of government policy, those farming households that agreed to euthanize their cattle now feel that their animals were destroyed for no purpose. Moreover, there have been requests both from within Japan and from overseas to rescue animals from the caution zone or to use them for research that can benefit people. In response, the Chairman of the Japan Veterinary Medical Association did change his request to the affected parties, such that research using cattle contaminated by radioactive materials in the caution zone began in November. A research project has also started in an effort to evaluate the radioactive contamination of the forests that occupy 70% of the land area in Fukushima Prefecture. This is being done by surveying the internal radioactive contamination of wild animals living in the forests. These examples demonstrate that research into the effects of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant accident on wildlife has just begun.