For the love of nature: a portrait of the Tokyo zoo’s Fukushima fauna

There is a rebirth going on as an animal colony emerges from the nuclear fallout at the Fukushima nuclear power plant

The first clean-up mission since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that led to the Fukushima nuclear plant’s meltdowns exposed me to the abandoned wildlife. I had to follow the path to safety, through the trails and pathways of the plant, yet I still fell in love with the surroundings.

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Just as the plants that survived the tsunami and the nuclear meltdown have come back to life in their new habitat, in one of Japan’s most unspoilt places, so the animals that escaped in its aftermath are coming back too.

My plan was to capture six species of birds and six species of mammals, including five birds and a western tree squirrel, and bring them back to the protected areas around the plant.

We set out with the aim of simply documenting the animals’ recovery. However, it quickly became apparent that we were not just documenting their survival, but living proof of the Great Rescuers’ mission.

Throughout the five-day trip, I stood witness to the reborn species which have taken root again in their habitat. I saw purple-eyed plovers, mourning doves, eastmen breasted kites, kingfishers, robins, common mergansers, eastern long-tailed fox sparrows, western tree squirrels, and four species of wildcat. In Japan, there is something pleasingly natural about seeing this baby population appear – and they are thriving and thriving.

I thought I’d be in awe, but instead my heart ached for those captured animals and those who lost their faunal companion. I, too, will see this on a regular basis. I don’t like to overstate the point but I will continue to attempt to follow in the footsteps of the Great Rescuers.

• This piece was commissioned as part of a project to mark Nikka, the first world orchids to be named an endangered species

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