Animals flourish at Chernobyl site

Roe deer at the Chernobyl site (Tatyana Deryabina)
Roe deer at the Chernobyl site (Tatyana Deryabina)

From a nuclear wasteland to something resembling a nature reserve, the ruins of Chernobyl are now home to an increasing number of wildlife.

The city was left deserted following the fire and explosion at the nuclear power plant in 1986, forcing the evacuations of its residents.

But now it seems wild boar, elk, roe deer, red deer and wolves now roam the area which researchers say is a reminder about the resilience of wildlife especially when free from human habitation.

Research published in Current Biology today, show populations of animals in the area now resemble those in four uncontaminated nature reserves in the region.

The number of wolves in the area is seven times that of neighbouring reserves.

They say it could have important lessons for understanding potential long-term impacts of the more recent Fukushima nuclear meltdown in Japan.

Earlier studies in the 4200sqkm Chernobyl Exclusion Zone showed major radiation effects and a significant reduction in wildlife populations.

But the new research, based on long-term census data, shows how the animal population has recovered three decades after the explosion.

This included helicopter survey data which showed rising numbers of elk, roe deer and wild boar from one to 10 years after the accident.

At one point since the explosion, the wild boar population dropped, however that was linked to an outbreak of disease rather than because of radiation.

"These results demonstrate for the first time that, regardless of potential radiation effects on individual animals, the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone supports an abundant mammal community after nearly three decades of chronic radiation exposure," the researchers say.

This is significant because the increases come at a time where elk and wild boar populations in the Soviet Union are on the decrease.

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