Born Free USA and thousands of Change.org members on Thursday urged the Japanese government to allow rescuers into the Fukushima evacuation zone to help the starving animals who have been abandoned. For the past several weeks, thousands of animals in the evacuation zone around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant have been left to fend for themselves.
“Various animal welfare groups have mobilized in Japan and are willing and ready to help these animals. The Japanese government simply needs to allow them access,” said Linda Wolfe, program associate for Born Free USA. “The survival of countless animals depends on a compassionate response from decision-makers in Japan who can enable an appropriate rescue effort. With thousands of innocent animals facing slow, painful deaths, there is no time to waste.”
When nuclear disaster struck Fukushima, Japanese officials had no contingency plan for evacuating animals. People were forced to leave quickly, and ordered to leave their animals behind. For the first few weeks, residents and rescuers were allowed to enter the evacuation zone at their own risk to provide care for animals, but they could not bring any animals out of the zone.
On April 22, the Japanese government enacted a strict no-entry policy, leaving tens of thousands of animals without aid for weeks. As recently as last week, rescuers were reporting that anyone caught sneaking into the evacuation zone to help animals would be arrested.
“The suffering that’s happening right now in the Fukushima evacuation zone is staggering,” said Stephanie Feldstein, editor for Change.org. “Born Free USA has given those forgotten animals a voice, and thousands from the Change.org community have stepped up to support them.”
The Japan Anti-Vivisection Association believes that nearly 675,000 farm animals lived in the evacuation zone prior to the disaster. As few as 1,000 are still alive. The number of cats and dogs is unknown, but as of May 23, only 75 animals had been rescued from the evacuation zone. The rest have been forced to scrounge for what food, water and shelter they can find. Some have even been caught on video roaming the highly radioactive site of the nuclear power plant itself.
On May 10, the Japanese government eased the barricades, starting a rotation that would allow residents of certain villages to enter for two hours at a time, during which they may crate or tie up their animals outside so government officials can collect them. It is uncertain how quickly that will happen, and there is still no plan for the surviving farm animals.
With most of the animals now roaming free, many residents may not even be able to find their companions during their two-hour time allotment. Under the best of circumstances, Wolfe noted, the rotation process could still take several weeks, or even months, before all of the abandoned animals can be cared for. “The animals still surviving need immediate help,” Wolfe said. “They don’t have several weeks.”
While the Japanese government is working with local officials to get the community back on its feet, local and international rescuers are standing by to help the starving animals in the evacuation zone as soon as they are allowed in.