Possibly hundreds of dogs and cats were left to their own devices when a 20-kilometer area around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant was evacuated after it went into meltdown. Entry into the Evacuation Zone is prohibited to anyone without a special permit. Some official or semi-official groups have gone in and rescued some animals; others creep in illegally under cover of darkness to save others, noted Oliver.
“Many of these pets that survived in this area are on the point of returning to wild states, in other words becoming feral,” Oliver said. “And now a further tragedy is emerging: the proliferation of puppies and kittens, progeny of the unneutered former pets. These offspring, totally untouched by humans, will evade capture and, in time, produce more feral animals.”
Hiroshi Hirani, a veterinarian with the Health, Welfare, Food and Safety division of the Fukushima prefectural government, said they are concerned and very aware of the problem.
“The problem is that once we have these cats and dogs, it is difficult to find their owners,” he said. “We are sending them to rescue centers. But do they have the capacity to care for many more and then find them permanent or foster homes?”
Hirani added that they are in the process of trying to find a strategy to handle this problem. He noted that half the cats were already feral outside the cities before the March 11 disaster.Oliver said that people evacuated, thinking it was only for a few days, but now all hope of returning is apparently gone. Evacuees left everything behind: their valuables, documents and pets. Some set pets free, putting their names on dogs’ collars, but other animals were left tied up or in cages. These died a lingering and painful death from starvation or dehydration. On farms, horses, cattle, pigs and chicken suffered the same fate.
“The Fukushima prefecture had 5,800 registered dogs on its books before the disasters, but as most people don’t register, this number could actually be triple,” she said. “Cats and other pets are not registered at all. Rescued pets indicate that the level of pet-keeping in Tohoku appeared to be low. Most saved dogs have tested positive for heartworm (filaria), none are microchipped or neutered, and the majority have coats that have never seen a brush in their lives.”
Additionally, rescuers who do get into the Evacuation Zone tend to take the friendly, easy-to-catch animals first and, as time has passed with no human contact, the remaining animals have become even warier. Those that have survived are on the point of returning to a wild state, noted Oliver.
It is likely that cats, rather than dogs, can revert easier to a feral state. Unless over-protected as pets, cats can depend on their predatory nature to hunt, probably rats and mice, since the latter will have multiplied enormously, living richly off the corpses of other animals.
“Dogs have already started to form packs, which will attack and possibly eat other dogs, but they are still too far removed from their ancestor the wolf and unable to hunt successfully,” Oliver said. “Over the years, dogs have become dependent on owners to provide food. Even in other areas of Japan where feral dogs exist, they tend to scavenge or wait for handouts rather than hunt.”Sean Bonner, cofounder of Safecast and running its global operations, went into the 20-30 voluntary Evaluation Zone area on Aug. 14 and saw several dogs with collars, and all of them looked skinny, although several bowls of food were left around the area for them. Safecast, an international volunteer organization, works with Tokyo HackerSpace to help people affected by Japan’s disasters.
“All the animals appeared to be nervous and cautious; some came closer than others; all left pretty quickly,” he said.
He noted that most were looking for something or someone. There was a sign from May 1 with photos of dogs that had been found and rescued, while others were roaming around hoping that their owners would claim them.