Japan Update: Gathering the World's Experts in Tokyo to Help Animals in the 'Hot Zone'
Six weeks have passed since that fateful day on March 11th when the earth and sea devastated much of the island nation of Japan. Six weeks but still, every day, we see news headlines on Japan, more often than not it’s about Fukushima and the nuclear crisis that continues to grip the nation.
I returned from an assessment trip to the impacted areas 3 weeks ago but now I’m starting to pack my suitcase again to head to Tokyo for a crucial meeting of radiation and animal experts.
On my last trip there I met with Dr. Toshio Mizoguchi, a veterinarian who heads the Fukushima Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. Dr. Toshio showed us around his complex which had some, but not serious damage to its structure. His concern though was for the wildlife near the nuclear plant side, within that 20km exclusion area.
We talked about ways to monitor radiation in all animals (wildlife, companion and farm animals) in the ‘hot zone’. We wanted to know how the radiation would affect them and how to decontaminate and evacuate them to safer areas.
Also, well-intentioned groups and animal owners were starting to head into the danger zone to care for and sometimes bring contaminated animals out. We’ve seen this happen before but it brings about a very dangerous situation. Now we’re seeing that the Japanese government is taking aggressive steps to tighten up security around the evacuation zone perimeter.
So, during the meeting with our Japanese colleagues, a plan started to take shape. We realized that if we could get some of the world’s top subject matter experts together soon to talk about Fukushima and the animals that were left behind, we could come up with plan to help the animal owners and the government of Japan in dealing with some of the tough issues surrounding radiation exposure. This would no doubt have huge animal welfare importance not only for animals affected in Japan but for any similar situation in the future.
We feel that the best way for the International Fund for Animal Welfare to contribute to the recovery efforts was to form a panel of experts and bring them to Japan as soon as possible. Now, we have a summit planned for the 2-3 of May where 14 experts from Japan and the United States will convene to produce recommendations, procedures, and protocols for monitoring, evacuating, and decontaminating animals if necessary.
By removing pets that can be safely decontaminated from the evacuation zone and reuniting them with their families, we will see a significant reduction in the number of people risking their lives by attempting to re-enter the danger zone.
In those two full-on working days we will cover issues such as radiation exposure, animal physiology, animal behavior, animal rescue and evacuation techniques, animal decontamination, animal sheltering and husbandry, wildlife habitat and rehabilitation, and human responder safety.
Japan is going to have to make some very difficult decisions in the coming days. A determination will need to be made very soon about the animals in close proximity to the nuclear station – especially now that access is being denied to the owners. We do not want to see these animals suffer and there may come a time when the only humane answer is euthanasia. But before making these kinds of decisions, our sincere hope is that the government will sit down with this group of experts to ensure that good animal welfare practices are taken into account when making these tough decisions.
Our panel of experts includes representatives from the Japanese Ministry of Environment, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), United States Army Veterinary Corps, veterinary and toxicology experts, academicians, and IFAW.
Today, I re-visited one of the unbelievable videos of the tsunami slamming into Japan’s eastern coastline. It helps remind me of what this is all about. All those people and all those animals that were caught in the middle and how desperately they need our help now to deal with yet another disaster caused by the crippled nuclear plant.
For more information on this and how you can help go to www.ifaw.org today.