Despite being one of the most radioactively contaminated areas on the planet, nature takes its course in Chernobyl’s exclusion zone. A group of scientists learned that the area once abandoned by humans more than two decades ago is now teeming with wildlife.
On April 26, 1986, a fire at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant near the Belarus-Ukraine border sent waves of radioactive dust particles across Europe and the former Soviet Union. In the accident, which was the worst nuclear power plant accident to date, 31 people died and tens of thousands were exposed to high levels of radiation, which may have consequences to this day.
Additionally, over 100,000 people in the contaminated 1,600-square-mile-wide area had to leave their homes and never come back. Dozens of small towns became ghost towns, while the nature took over.
Yet, although no human dared to come back after the disaster, animals did. According to a recent research, wild boars, wolves, deer, and many more species are thriving in the area.
Researchers found that the number of some populations rebounded so much that they are now even larger than in nearby natural preserves in Belarus.
Tom Hinton, a radioecology expert at Fukushima University and lead author of the study, said that the news that nature takes its course in Chernobyl’s exclusion zone was not a surprise. He added that the real surprise was that wildlife is able to flourish even in the most contaminated parts of the world.
The recent study is the first attempt to estimate wildlife populations in Chernobyl’s exclusion zone. Study authors based their findings on a decade of helicopter-based observations made by conservationists from Belarus and three years of researchers counting animals’ tracks on snow at the Belarusian border.
One year after the disaster, number of animals was low in the zone. But Belarusian scientists couldn’t tell whether that situation was due to the explosion or to human activity.
Yet, rare species such as the European lynx and brown bears made a comeback in the area although they weren’t seen there for decades before the nuclear explosion. Wild boar populations also rebounded and took over human settlements such as orchards, homes, and pig pens.
According to the study, in less than a decade all wildlife populations in the exclusion zone more than doubled. Ironically, the species that thrived in the exclusion zone were on the brink of extinction in Soviet Union because of poaching, economic activities and deforestation.
Image Source: Wikimedia
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