Thursday, October 08, 2015

Wild animals have returned to Chernobyl despite radiation

Nearly 30 years after the world's largest nuclear accident, the Chernobyl site now looks less like a disaster zone and more like a nature preserve, teeming with elk, roe deer, red deer, wild boar, and wolves, researchers said Monday.

The findings, published in the U.S. journal Current Biology, are a reminder of the resilience of wildlife and may also hold important lessons for understanding the potential long-term impact of the more recent Fukushima disaster in Japan.

"It's very likely that wildlife numbers at Chernobyl are much higher than they were before the accident," study author Jim Smith of the University of Portsmouth in Britain said in a statement. "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."

In 1986, after a fire and explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant released radioactive particles into the air, thousands of people left the area, never to return.

Earlier studies in the 4,200-square-kilometer Chernobyl Exclusion Zone showed major radiation effects and pronounced reductions in wildlife populations.

Now, the relative abundance of elk, roe deer, red deer, and wild boar within the exclusion zone are now similar to those in four uncontaminated nature reserves in the region, the researchers reported.

The number of wolves living in and around the Chernobyl site is more than seven times greater than can be found in those nature reserves.

Helicopter survey data also reveal rising trends in the abundance of elk, roe deer, and wild boar from one to 10 years after the accident. A dip in the wild boar population at one point was traced to a disease outbreak unrelated to radiation exposure.

"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 concluded.

They noted that these increases came at a time when elk and wild boar populations were declining in other parts of the former Soviet Union.

"These unique data showing a wide range of animals thriving within miles of a major nuclear accident illustrate the resilience of wildlife populations when freed from the pressures of human habitation," added Jim Beasley, a study co-author at the University of Georgia.

Xinhua -

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