At site of world’s worst nuclear disaster, the animals have returned

On the contrary, the number of large mammals, including elk, roe deer, red deer, wild boar and wolves are similar to those in four uncontaminated nature reserves in the region.


Following the disaster, more than 116,000 local residents were evacuated from the zone around Chernobyl, which covers a few 4,200 square kilometres (1,622 square miles), with only key construction workers and nuclear staff allowed into the site to safeguard the stricken reactors.

“Indeed by accident it’s created this kind of nature reserve”.

An explosion and a fire at the nuclear power plant in Ukraine released radioactive material into the air, which spread over several countries.

Researchers used long-term census data and helicopter surveys to show rising trends in the numbers of elk, roe deer and wild boar between one and 10 years after the accident.

Wild boar have thrived in the exclusion zone. Jim Smith of the University of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom and colleagues are the first to document the return of native wildlife to the Chernobyl site in the October. 5, 2015, edition of the journal Current Biology.

Before the accident, they said, mammal population densities were probably reduced because of hunting, forestry and agriculture – human encroachment on their habitats, in other words. Wolf populations in the area are seven times higher than they were before the accident.

This is significant because the increases come at a time where elk and wild boar populations in the Soviet Union are on the decrease. Since then, this has largely reverted to forest and turned into a wildlife haven as a result of the lack of human activity.

The researchers did not examine the effects of radiation on individual animals, but are trying to gauge how it effects the populations on the whole.

The study’s lead author, Tatiana Deryabina, a wildlife ecologist at Polessye State Radioecological Reserve in Belarus, has been “working, studying and taking photos of the wonderful wildlife in the Chernobyl area for over 20 years, and I am very pleased our work is reaching an global scientific audience”.

“These unique data showing a wide range of animals thriving within miles of a major nuclear accident illustrate the resilience of wildlife populations when freed from the pressures of human habitation”, said Jim Beasley of the University of Georgia and co-author of the study. The researchers claim that animals are more resilient to the effects of a nuclear disaster than they are to the behaviors of humans.

But Prof Mousseau is also troubled by “the characterisation that Chernobyl and the surrounding area is teeming with wildlife”.


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A family of elk in the exclusion zone