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The disaster zone turned wildlife haven

Date: 04-Jun-19
Author: Liam Taylor

Grey wolves are just some of the species thriving in the Chernobyl exclusion zone in the absence of humans. Image: Dusan Smutana/Unsplash © Dusan Smutana/Unsplash

Grey wolves are just some of the species thriving in the Chernobyl exclusion zone in the absence of humans. Image: Dusan Smutana/Unsplash

At the site of one of the world’s worst nuclear accidents in history, rare and endangered animals are thriving without human populations to compete with. The part of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone within Belarus was opened to visitors in December last year and is rapidly becoming a hotspot for wildlife watching and ecology tours as local animal populations boom.

On the 26th of April 1986, a catastrophic nuclear accident occurred at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant due to a combination of reactor design flaws and breaches of safety protocol during a planned safety test. Due to the significant amounts of radiation dumped during the fall-out, the area’s population was evacuated and a 2,160 square kilometre exclusion zone was established around the periphery of the power plant.

Whilst barely any humans have returned to the site since the accident, a study using remote cameras in the Polesie State Radioecological Reserve has found that animal populations have not only returned to the area but may have even expanded in the absence of humans. The results of the 2014 study were published this year in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, with researchers finding a number of species including grey wolves, raccoon dogs, Eurasian boars and red foxes were thriving in the environment.

James Beasley, one of the study’s researchers from the University of Georgia, said that whilst it was unclear the effects of radiation on those species, it appeared that the absence of human civilisation was having more of an impact on animal populations. 

“I would argue that for many of those species [the effects of radiation], even if they’re there, probably aren’t enough to suppress populations to the point where they can’t sustain themselves,” Beasley told National Geographic.

 “Humans have been removed from the system and this greatly overshadows any of those potential radiation effects.”


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Liam                                              Taylor
Author: Liam Taylor

Liam is Planet Ark's Communications Coordinator. Prior to joining Planet Ark Liam spent his time studying global environmental issues, travelling Southeast Asia on the cheap and working for a sustainable property management company in Bali, Indonesia.

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