Chernobyl's Wolves Are Starting To Leave The Radioactive Exclusion Zone


Jonathan O'Callaghan

Senior Staff Writer

FOTOimage Montreal/Shutterstock

We’ve known for a while that Chernobyl, after its nuclear power plant went into meltdown, became a surprising safe haven for wildlife. Devoid of humans, some animals have thrived.

Now we’ve seen new evidence for this in the form of wolves that live in the area. A paper published in the European Journal of Wildlife Research has found that at least one is now venturing out of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.


That zone was set up after the nuclear accident in 1986, spanning about 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) across. No humans are allowed to live there, although tourists have since been allowed to visit.

In the paper, Michael Byrne from the University of Missouri at Columbia and his colleagues tracked 14 gray wolves with GPS collars in the section of the zone that’s in Belarus. While 13 of them, all adults, remained in the zone, the other – a male juvenile – roamed about 300 kilometers (186 miles) outside the zone over 21 days.

Byrne told Live Science that this was the “the first proof of a wolf dispersing beyond the exclusion zone,” although a problem with the tracker meant they aren't sure if it returned. He added that instead of being an “ecological black hole”, the zone may help populations nearby of not just wolves but other animals too.

The exclusion zone continues to be an area with pockets of radiation, which does raise "questions about the potential spread of radiation-induced genetic mutations," the team said in their paper. Byrne, however, said they had no evidence to suggest this was happening. "No wolves there were glowing – they all have four legs, two eyes and one tail," he said.


As mentioned, wolves aren’t the only animals to enjoy the human-less exclusion zone. Wild boar, elk, and roe deer have all steadily increased in numbers. It’s not all good news for wildlife, mind, as stray dogs left behind have had a rather tough time.

Back in May, we actually learned that “radioactive puppies” from Chernobyl would be going up for adoption in the US. Following a 45-day quarantine, they would be making their way to the States to find a new home.

Other animals have struggled too, including bees, butterflies, and spiders – most likely because these animals may lay eggs in contaminated soil. But for wolves and a few other animals, the Chernobyl disaster has given them a chance to thrive.

(H/T: Live Science)


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