Wildlife populations thriving in Chernobyl exclusion zone

Washington: Researchers have discovered abundant populations of wildlife at Chernobyl, the site of the world’s largest nuclear accident in 1986 that released radioactive particles into the environment and forced a massive evacuation of the human population.

The site in Ukraine looks more like a nature preserve than a disaster zone – abundant with moose, roe deer, wild boar and wolves – nearly 30 years after the world’s largest nuclear accident on April 26, 1986, researchers said.

Previous studies in the 1,621-square-mile Chernobyl Exclusion Zone showed evidence of major radiation effects and significantly reduced populations of wildlife.

For the first time since the Chernobyl accident, researchers have long-term census data that show thriving wildlife populations in the zone.

“Our data are a testament to the resiliency of wildlife when freed from direct human pressures such as habitat loss, fragmentation and persecution,” said co-author James Beasley, assistant professor of wildlife ecology at the University of Georgia Savannah River Ecology Laboratory in US.

“The multi-year data clearly show that a multitude of wildlife species are abundant throughout the zone, regardless of the level of radiation contamination,” Beasley said.

“This doesn’t mean radiation is good for wildlife, just that the effects of human habitation, including hunting, farming and forestry, are a lot worse,” said Jim Smith, a professor of environmental science at the University of Portsmouth in the UK and the team’s coordinator.

The study results show that the number of moose, roe deer, red deer and wild boar living in the zone are similar to numbers in nearby uncontaminated nature reserves in the region.

The census data on wolves in the area indicate they are seven times greater in number than those living in the nearby reserves. Aerial census data collected from 1987-1996 show rising numbers of moose, roe deer and wild boar in the zone.

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 wildlife in the Chernobyl area for over 20 years.

The Chernobyl disaster was the worst nuclear power plant accident in history in terms of cost and casualties.

During the accident itself, 31 people died, and long-term effects such as cancers are still being investigated.