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Humans Are More Threatening to Wildlife Than Chronic Radiation Stress • Mirror Daily

(Mirror Daily, United States) – It’s impossible to hear the name of Chernobyl and not shudder, remembering the catastrophic nuclear disaster that took place in 1986 at the nuclear-power plant in Ukraine.

But a little ray of hope shines through the rubble, as a new study found that wildlife can thrive in the middle of the tragedy. Published in the journal Current Biology, the study reveals that some large mammals – such as the elk, wild boar, red deer and wolves – don’t mind the radiation-contaminated zone in and around Chernobyl. Even more so, they seem to be thriving in it.

The findings are rather difficult to digest, suggesting that when it comes to what poses more threat to wildlife, a nuclear disaster is way lower on the list than human invasion. Take that as food for thought, human race.

The authors explain that even though animals might suffer from potential radiation effects, the Chernobyl exclusion zone seems to be a welcoming home for an abundant mammal population, just three decades after chronic radiation.

This study could also provide some useful insight into understanding how wildlife is affected by other similar meltdowns, such as the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in 2011 in Japan.

After the explosion and the fire in 1986, a plume of radioactive material was released into the atmosphere. Several neighboring countries felt the changes in the air, but the most affected were the roughly 116,000 people who were required to evacuate the 1,622-square-mile Chernobyl exclusion zone.

But how can you tell animals they need to evacuate? You don’t, so researchers just assumed the radiation would slowly kill off the wildlife in the area. Partially, that is what happened. According to several previous studies, the major radiation has indeed led to significant reductions in wildlife populations.

However, the new study found that something else has happened in the exclusion zone. An international team of researchers monitored animal activity in the Polessye State Radioecological Reserve – the Belarus portion of the Chernobyl radiation zone – which covers roughly half of the entire exclusion area.

After comparing the data collected from here with the numbers found in other uncontaminated reserves further away from Chernobyl, researchers found “relative abundances of elk, roe deer, red deer and wild boar.” Even more so, helicopter survey data revealed the animal populations were rising from one to 10 years post-meltdown.

How is this possible? It seems that before the catastrophe, mammal-population densities were greatly reduced by hunting, agriculture and foresting, but once the area was deserted of humans, the animals finally started to thrive. No matter the chronic radiation stress, animals are better off like this than with human encroachment on their habitats.
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