The Environment Ministry and the Fukushima prefectural government are working together over a two-week period to round up and decontaminate stray pets that were abandoned within the 20-kilometer no-go zone around the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant following the earthquake and tsunami that struck the Tohoku region almost a year ago.
The round-up began Thursday in Minamisoma and Namie where 20 ministry and prefectural employees helped to lay baited cages in abandoned residential areas, fields and shopping arcades. Officials say that although around a thousand animals have been found so far, there are hundreds left roaming the deserted landscape, NHK reported.
Animal welfare experts say they are eager to catch as many as possible before the spring breeding season arrives, after which the numbers could increase dramatically. There are also fears that animals have become feral in the year since their abandonment and may attack their former owners.
Michiyuki Nishiyama, the head of the ministry's Animal Welfare and Management Office, said they are striving to rescue every pet they can. "We take the attitude that every pet counts if it'll help restore some peace of mind to their owners," he was quoted by NHK as saying.
Local governments from six towns and cities are taking part in the project until March 15. Photographs of the animals will be posted on a webpage on which ex-residents can check for their missing pets.
The project to round up pets follows a similar effort last December when animal welfare groups were given the OK by the Environment Ministry to go into the no-go zone to pick up any pets still alive.
After the March 11 disaster, many pets were left to fend for themselves in the area. Many starved to death or ran wild. Several hundred dogs and cats are believed to still be alive, animal welfare groups say.
When the nuclear disaster struck Fukushima, 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.© Japan Today