- Nearly a year after the quake and tsunami, animal carcasses litter the region
- Animal activists call the dead animals an outrage
- Environmental agency says government has tried to rescue as many as possible
- It points out the risk posed to people entering the contaminated area
When you stand in the center of Japan's exclusion zone, there is absolute silence. The exclusion zone is the 20-kilometer (12-mile) radius around the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, an area of high radiation contamination.
On March 12, the day after the quake and tsunami hit, 78,000 people were evacuated out of this area, believing they would return within a few days. As such, thousands of people left with their dogs tied up in the backyard, cats in their houses and livestock penned in barns.
Nearly a year later, animal carcasses litter the region.
Cows and pigs starved to death, their bones still in pens. Dogs dropped dead with disease. A cat skull sits on a neighborhood road.
This is perhaps an inevitable outcome to a nuclear emergency, but animal rights activists call it an outrage.
"It's shameful," says Yasunori Hoso with United Kennel Club Japan. "We kept asking the government to rescue these animals from the beginning of the disaster. There must have been a way to rescue the people and the animals at the same time following the nuclear disaster at Fukushima."
Japan's environmental agency tells CNN the government's position has been to rescue as many livestock and animals possible. But it points out that because of the risk posed to people entering the contaminated area, the government has chosen to take a prudent attitude toward animal rescue.
Last December, the government allowed animal rights groups like UKC Japan to enter the exclusion zone and rescue any surviving animals. Hoso entered with his members, carrying cages and food.
On one of those days, Hoso's group approached a house. A six-week-old female puppy lay dead in the living room in a pool of blood. It appeared to have died from disease. From the back of the house, the UKC volunteers heard weak barking. The puppy's two brothers were still alive, hiding in another part of the house. They were traumatized and afraid of the rescuers, having never been around people before. The volunteers soon rounded up their mother.
Those dogs now reside at the UKC Japan shelter near Tokyo. 250 dogs and 100 cats, all from the exclusion zone, live in cramped cages at the shelter. UKC Japan, which survives on donations, says it has tracked down 80% of the owners.
But that hasn't meant the animals can reunite with owners. Shelters and temporary apartment housing have not allowed the owners to live with their pets, Hoso said.
Unfortunately, he added, the owners can't live with their animals because they are homeless themselves.