Just over a year ago, Japan experienced one of the most powerful earthquakes ever to hit its coast, causing a deadly tsunami to wreak havoc and devastation, and resulting in a human death toll of more than 15,000.
A year on, as the world sadly remembers the tragedy, thousands of animals still roam the region, lost amongst the rubble on Japan’s streets, a poignant reminder of the catastrophic effects natural disasters can cause.
In the immediate wake of the 2011 disaster, the American Humane Association sent shipments of supplies and relief donations to the animal rescue centres in Japan, which were working desperately to save the lives of the abandoned animals.
Despite the Association’s best efforts to save animals in jeopardy and to reunite them with their owners, tens of thousands of pets, namely cats and dogs, remain homeless, and roam Japan’s streets.
American Humane Association Assesses the Problem
American Humane Association President and CEO Dr. Robin Ganzert, recently returned from a humanitarian trip to Japan to assist the animals that had been abandoned from their homes after the earthquake.
According to a press release from the AHA, Dr Ganzert visited various sites which had been affected by the earthquake, assessing the on-going problems facing the homeless animals and what financial requirements will be needed to provide assistance. Dr. Ganzert told reporters:
“Following the 3/11 earthquake American Humane Association and our Red Star Animal Emergency services immediately mobilized, sending desperately needed supplies and support to local Japanese relief agencies. Great strides have been made since to help the victims of the disaster, but far too many are still without homes and without hope, and we must continue to help.” (1)
Dr. Ganzert’s findings reveal the depressing truth – that even a year since the disaster struck Japan, most people in the affected areas have been unable to return to their homes and that shelters remain overwhelmed with animals hoping to be reclaimed or adopted.
The animals living in the shelters are perhaps the lucky ones, as the less fortunate cats and dogs stray neighbourhoods, curled up together for warmth and scrounging for scraps, wondering, as Dr. Ganzert says, “if their owners will ever return.”
The Problem for Fukushima Pets Gets Worse
Dr. Ganzer has recorded some of her observations in Japan in a journal entitled, “The Animals of Fukushima: One Year Later.”
In the introduction to the journal, the President of the American Humane Association highlights the urgency for the animals of Fukishima region of Japan to be helped.
“The animals of Fukishima need a voice; they need their stories told; and the power of the human-animal bond needs to be emphasized in times of tragedy and recovery as part of the healing process. Humanity knows no boundaries.” (2)
The Japanese government has been criticised for its lack of effort to help save Japan’s destitute animals. Talking to the Huffington Post, Elizabeth Oliver, founder of Animal Rescue Kansai (ARK), said:
“The Japanese government’s lack of response regarding helping animals and people after March 11th has been a disgrace.” (3)
The same report talks about how thousands of pets died when the government enforced a 20-kilometre exclusion zone in the Tohoku area in April 2011, which meant that animal rescue groups and volunteers found it even more difficult to rescue the starving animals.
As freezing conditions set in during December 2011, the Japanese government let the animal rescue groups enter the exclusion zone temporarily, although many pets still remain in the area.
With the onset of spring, additional problems are unfolding as the lingering effects of Japan’s earthquake on homeless animals intensify. Many of the abandoned animals are mating, producing feral offspring which are impossible to capture, and multiplying the number of stray cats and dogs seen roaming on Japan’s streets.
Lingering Problems from Fukushima
It is not just the domesticated pets of Japan which are facing the lingering brunt of the cruel natural disaster which hit the country just over a year ago.
While little has been written about the effects that the earthquake and the radioactivity that was released into the atmosphere at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station had on the wildlife of the affected areas, we can safely assume that – although Japan’s wildlife may have fared better than the country’s domesticated pets – many natural habitats are likely to have been destroyed.
Such national destruction will only cause havoc to the natural fauna in the area.
As a report from Hub Pages stated about the effects the Japanese earthquake of 2011 had on pets and animals:
“Most likely there was serious damage to many natural habitats. Everything from bird’s nests to the burrows of racoon dogs were likely destroyed. Normal feeding grounds may have been stripped of natural fauns as well as insects and small animals that some wildlife might need to survive in an area.” (4)
It is the images of once healthy and loved animal companions scrounging desperately for food among bins that continues to be a stark reminder of a devastating natural tragedy.
As capable these images are to move people to tears, so does the strength of the Japanese people as they continue to rebuild their lives. Finally being reunited with their four-legged companions will irrevocably help to retain some of the stabilisation they so desperately need.