After the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine 29 years ago, people living in the vicinity of the plant hoped that they would return home days later after the evacuation. But the nuclear accident was so catastrophic that no one ever returned.
The radioactive particles affected not only Ukraine but the entire Eastern Europe through Russia. About 160,000 Ukrainians were evacuated in those days. Some three decades later, villages and homes in the affected area stay empty and cities around the nuclear power plant became ghost towns.
But in the absence of man, life began to thrive again since wild animals have slowly taken over. Researchers found that the exclusion zone is now home to hundreds of species of animals including wolves, foxes, bison, wild boars, and roe deer.
Jim Smith, lead author of the study and researcher at the University of Portsmouth in England, believes that human activities such as habitation, agriculture and deforestation may be worse even than radiation to the animals.
In their study, researchers used the data provided by the Polessye State Radioecological Reserve located at the border with Ukraine in Belarus. The reserve has data on half the exclusion zone and its wildlife.
Polessye researchers counted wild animals in the exclusion zone from helicopters between 1987 and 1996. They reported that especially large animals rebounded in the wake of the disaster.
For instance, wild boar populations saw their numbers skyrocket due to good conditions in the area such as human absence and plenty of food sources. Wild boars even colonized deserted villages and their orchards, gardens, farms, and even pig pens.
British researchers wanted to learn whether there was a difference in the numbers of animals in this exclusion zone and other nearby nature preserves. The team learned that there was no difference between animal numbers in the sites, as if radiation didn’t affect at all the wildlife near Chernobyl.
On the contrary, there were more wolves in the exclusion zone than in natural preserves. The research team believes that lack of hunters and other natural predators helped wolves thrive.
Past studies, however, found radiation traces in Germany’s wild boars decades after the accident. But study authors do not think that radiation may take its toll on animal populations’ size in Chernobyl.
They said that they measured animal tracks during winter in the exclusion zone and they didn’t notice a reduction in animal numbers. On the contrary, animals seem to mysteriously thrive in the area.
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