VIDEO: On The Ground in Japan: ER Team Update on Assessments
1600. Our first meeting of the day was with Dr. Toshio Mizoguchi, Executive Director for the Fukishima Prefectural Wildlife Rehabilitation Center and his wife, Yohko Mizoguchi who runs the non-profit side of the center. They had joined us for dinner the evening before and provided us some background information on the center. The purpose of today’s visit was to tour the facility, discuss potential impact that the earthquake and tsunami might have on wildlife, and to determine if there were any recovery projects that IFAW might be able to support.
The center is located on about 4.5 ha in a beautiful setting high in the mountains above Fukishima. The only significant damage they incurred from the earthquake was a damaged aviary and their power has since been restored and no animals were injured. They are well outside the evacuation zone. Dr. Mizoguchi is also chair of the Fukishima Prefecture Veterinary Medical Association (FPVMA) so he has his hands full dealing with wildlife and companion animals following the disaster.
In terms of radiation exposure, the number one concern is the monitoring of the radiation levels and determining the impact the radiation is having on the animals currently living in the evacuation zone. In addition, it is assumed that animals (especially wildlife) are traversing freely in and out of the danger zone. There is no established protocol for decontamination and/or treatment of animals affected by radiation, nor are there any standards established for determining when an animal has been exposed to an unsafe level of radiation. In essence, little is known about the survivability of wildlife and pets - or the viability of feed animals - exposed to radiation.
We discussed IFAW supporting and organizing a convening of global Subject Matter Experts in Japan to develop protocol for monitoring and treatment of animals exposed to radiation.
We discussed the scientific and humane value of identifying best practices and establishing protocols for decontaminating animals exposed to radiation. In the U.S. for example, the Fukishima reactor disaster has spurred a good deal of attention in cities with reactors of the same age, design, and construction. A similar event could occur in many parts of the world and identifying best practices and lessons learned along with establishing protocols for safely decontaminating animals would be of immense value to animal welfare. We also decided that the information gathering process and resulting protocols should address all species including dogs and cats and livestock. I left the discussion in the hands of the FPVMA but assured our cooperation and complete support if they opted to pursue this project.
As I mentioned, Dr. Mizoguchi is the Chair of the FPVMA and as such responsible for providing support for the dogs and cats that came with the people evacuated from the disaster area. There are over 400 human shelters in Fukishima and the majority of evacuees are from the 30km mandatory evacuation zone. The shelters in Fukishima – unlike Ishinomaki, do not allow pets in the shelter so folks are forced to keep there animals in their car.
For those people who did not bring their cars, a small animal shelter has been established adjacent to the human shelter. Toshio does not know exactly how many animals are staying in cars but as we were walking through the lot, we found at least a dozen cars with dogs or cats. The owners spend most of their time in their cars with the pets and then go into the shelter for meals. Certainly not ideal when the nights are well below freezing and during the day when the sum heats up the interior reaches an uncomfortable level for all.
We discussed a number of options but in this situation, I suggested a temporary shelter adjacent to the human shelter that would hold approximately 200 dogs. A Quonset style hut should provide enough shelter and a portable heating system could keep the shelter warm enough at night. There is power available and we discussed a number of portable water systems. I told him that IFAW and our partners from the NARSC would provide expertise needed for getting the shelter up and running. I am assuming that the Coalition has included this shelter in their work plan and have adequate resources to fund the project. This may also provide a great opportunity for IFAW and NARSC to conduct a training on emergency shelter construction and operation.
We were able to interview a couple of evacuees that brought pets with them but the one that really pulled my heart strings was a gentleman who was forced to evacuate and did not have a vehicle. He could only bring out his dog and left three cats behind. He dumped out all the food that he had available and left water but obviously, that will not last long. He told us that he had a difficult time walking his dog out of his village as there were so many wandering dogs that they were aggressively approaching him for the food his was carrying. Many of the people forced to evacuate were not able to take their animals and in the case of dogs, simply left them to fend for themselves. What he was describing was something right out of a science fiction movie as animals were already packing up and aggressively looking for food.
Unfortunately, there are not a lot of good options available. A large-scale round-up and evacuation of potentially contaminated animals is not practical and long-term feeding operations in an unsafe area is probably not feasible and we do not want contaminated animals leaving the zone and entering safe areas - so the situation is grave. As much as we hate to resort to depopulation - if the radiation levels remain high and death is imminent – it may be the most humane option.
However, we are hoping to meet a representative of Congress tonight to continue this discussion and to continue to look for more appealing options. Taking no action in this situation is a death warrant for all animals in the zone including wildlife and approximately 500 head of livestock. Taking no action means that animals will suffer and possibly cross over into safe areas and possibly contaminate other animals, soil, and water sources.
I mentioned last night that our borrowed van was somewhat hobbled by losing two rear shock absorbers. Apparently in a city of over 2M people, there are no shocks available for this type of vehicle. So we drove the van to the dealer in hopes of renting a vehicle. Unfortunately, they did not have anything big enough to carry all of our gear so we packed everything into a taxi to go to the train station.
Unfortunately, the tracks running out of Fukishima were damaged by the quake so we are currently on a bus headed for Nasushiobara station where we will catch the shinkansen (high-speed train) to Tokyo. We will be unfashionably late for our meeting with the member of Congress but he has agreed to wait! Naoko, an IFAW staff member based in Japan, has agreed to meet us there so it looks to be a long evening.
Tomorrow, I will meet with Dr. Yamaguchi from JAWS and will hopefully discuss the coalition response plan...
For now we have been able to visit the impacted areas, meet the key players, and hopefully by weeks end identify the best way for IFAW to be involved.
To support IFAW efforts work in Japan and around the world, visit http://www.ifaw.org