Animals have flocked back to Chernobyl, Ukraine, the site of one of the most devastating nuclear meltdowns in history - here's why.
Chernobyl, Ukraine is the site of one of the worst nuclear disasters in human history, with radiation levels still dangerously high for humans in some areas. According to a report from Slash Gear, however, animals don’t seem to mind too much. A recent study published in the journal Current Biology reveals that wildlife has returned to the 4200 square kilometer zone in greater numbers than anyone ever expected.
What’s even better is that the ecosystem in the Chernobyl zone is incredibly strong. Wolves have shown up in droves – there are nearly seven times more wolves in the Chernobyl area than there are in surrounding parks. Using an aerial monitoring system, researchers wrote that the biodiversity in the Chernobyl zone is back to, if not exceeding pre-meltdown levels.
In 1986, a nuclear reactor exploded and exposed the town of Chernobyl to dangerous radiation. Humans have vacated the area, leaving behind eerie remnants of quickly abandoned homes and buildings. Despite the deadly radiation, animals of all sorts seemed to enjoy the lack of human presence in the area. It is highly likely that there was an initial loss of life in the forest surrounding the nuclear power plant in Chernobyl, but life quickly bounced back.
The study was conducted by professors Tom Hinton, a radioecology expert from Fukushima University in Japan, and Jim Smith, an environmental science professor at the University of Portsmouth in England, and is the first large scale census of the wildlife in the nuclear exclusion zone.
In addition to wolves, brown bears and European lynx have also appeared in the forests around Chernobyl. These species hadn’t been spotted in the area for decades prior to the accident. Wild boars have also made their homes in abandoned buildings.
After 10 years of human absence, the population of every animal species in the exclusion zone had grown by at least a hundred percent. Species that seemed to be doing fine in the Chernobyl forests were disappearing from other Eastern European environments due to pressure from humans.
The fact that there are so many wolves and lynx in the forest is indicative of the health of the ecosystem as a whole. The presence of specialty predators means that there is more than enough prey to go around.
This doesn’t mean that the Chernobyl area is safe now, however. The study did not examine the radiation present in any of these animals, which could have suffered significant damage on the molecular level. The explosion at Chernobyl killed dozens of people and drove over 100,000 people from their homes over a 1,600 square mile area spanning parts of Ukraine and Belarus.