Photos Show Wildlife Thrives Near Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster Site

A pack of wolves visiting a camera trap station in the Chernobyl exclusion zone. National Geographic/Jim Beasley/Sarah Webster

More than 100,000 people were permanently evacuated from lands surrounding the Chernobyl Nuclear Power plant after a power surge that led to an explosion and fire there in 1986 spewed radioactive material throughout Belarus, Russia and Ukraine. But nobody told the animals to leave. Now, they are growing strong in number.

As shown in a study published September in the journal Current Biology—reported on by Newsweek—there appeared to be large populations of mammals like elk, deer, wild boar and wolves in contaminated areas surrounding Chernobyl. That paper found no correlation between the number of wildlife tracks in an area and the amount of radiation, suggesting the animals weren't as heavily affected as previously thought by the hazardous materials left behind from the accident 30 years ago.

A new paper published April 18 in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment has come to the same conclusion. But this time, the researchers used camera traps to more carefully model populations of the animals—and to get some nice photographs. Their results suggest the distributions of gray wolf, red fox, raccoon dog and Eurasian boar—all of which were spotted in abundance—are not limited by the presence of contamination.

A raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides) in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC/JIM BEASLEY/SARAH WEBSTER

The researchers also captured pictures of 10 other mammals, including weasels, badgers, moose and pine martens.

However, the paper didn't measure individual health of individual animals, and some research suggests that exposure to radiation in Chernobyl reduces fertility rates for some animals, like various bird species. But others species seem to be doing just fine.

A gray wolf spotted on a camera trap in the Chernoyl exclusion zone. New research suggest the animals aren't heavily affected by lingering radiation in the area. Sarah Webster et al / Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment
Red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) are also found in abundance in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. National Geographic/Jim Beasley/Sarah Webster
Wildlife may not have been as affected by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster as previously thought. Here, wild boar run in a former village in the Chernobyl exclusion zone. Valeriy Yurko