Following one of the worst nuclear meltdowns in history, the wildlife is returning to Chernobyl, Ukraine in full force.
Chernobyl, Ukraine was once known as one of the deadliest places on Earth. After a nuclear reactor exploded in the 80s and released massive amounts of radiation into the surrounding environment, researchers thought it would be centuries until the area returned to its natural state. According to a report from the BBC, however, a recent study confirms that mammals are once again becoming abundant in the area most affected by the fallout.
A long-term census of the wildlife in Chernobyl has shown that the numbers of all species are significantly higher than they were before the accident occurred. According to professor Jim Smith of the University of Portsmouth, this doesn’t necessarily mean that radiation is a good thing for the plants and animals in a region.
Smith, along with researchers from the Polesky State Radioecological Reserve in Belarus, scoured data from aerial photos and identified large herds of mammals like roe deer, elk, wild boar, and even wolves.
The study tracked the footprints left by larger animals in the snow during the winter months to keep count of the number of different species present, as well as the level of radiation present in the tracks. Smith says that the populations in Chernobyl are beginning to look more like populations in areas that were never contaminated by radiation.
The most notable change is the number of wolves in the area. Wolves are an apex predator, considered to be one of the best indicators of the health of other species lower on the food chain. Smith reported that there were nearly seven times as many wolves in Chernobyl than in nearby nature reserves. While the lack of hunting in Chernobyl may have something to do with it, it’s safe to say that wildlife in the area was incredibly resilient following one of the worst nuclear energy disasters the world has ever seen.