When the Fukushima earthquake and tsunami struck in 2011, a meltdown of the nuclear power plant forced everyone living nearby to evacuate, leaving behind their homes, their lives, and even their animals. Witnesses told news wires that they left their farm animals tied up in barns, pets inside homes, and chickens in their cages. However, a handful of farmers who were brave enough to return have made it their mission to care for the animals left behind.

Naoto Matsumura, a former rice farmer, lives six miles from the Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant. He lives by himself except for the 50 cows, two ostriches, dogs, cats, and other animals in his care. Since the farm animals inside of the evacuation zone were exposed to high levels of radiation, they could no longer be sold for food. The Japanese government wanted to slaughter the animals anyway, but Matsumura convinced them otherwise.

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Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 9.44.48 AMGreg Baker/Associated Press

 

Matsumura isn’t the only one who returned to his farm to care for their animals, though. Rancher Masami Yoshizawa, who lives in another town within the exclusion zone, created and runs a sanctuary called the “Ranch of Hope,” where he cares for cattle affected by the power plant meltdown.

When government officials wanted to slaughter his cattle for contamination, Yoshizawa protested police forces and instead called for an investigation into why the cattle have mysterious white spots.

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 10.06.18 AMKoji Sasahara/Associated Press

Farmer Keigo Sakamoto also refused to leave his home near the power plant. His farm is now a sanctuary for chickens, geese, goats, dogs and other animals, many of which were abandoned by previous owners. He named his dog Atom since he was born right before the disaster.

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 9.45.34 AMDamar Sagolj/Reuters

The Haradas Family travels back to their farm on a daily basis to care for their 30 cows.“Cows are my family. I don’t want to kill them, I don’t know what to do,” said Norobu Harada.

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 10.11.34 AMDamir Sagolj/Reuters

 

 

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These farmers are incredibly brave for entering the site of a nuclear disaster. If it were not for them, these animals would surely have met their demise.  The lasting effects of Japan’s nuclear meltdown are still to be determined, and to risk their own health in order to save animals who have no option to escape is one of the most admirable and selfless acts imaginable. To learn more about the efforts of these amazing farmers, visit Naoto Matsumura’s Facebook page.

Lead image source: Greg Baker/Associated Press