On April 26, 1986, a power surge caused an explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant near Pripyat, Ukraine. A large quantity of radioactive material was released.
On May 2, 1986, the Soviet government established a “Zone of Alienation” or “Exclusion Zone” around Chernobyl – a thousand square miles of “radioactive wasteland.” All humans were evacuated. The town of Pripyat was completely abandoned.
But the animals didn’t leave. And a new study, published this month in Current Biology, suggests they are doing fine. “None of our three hypotheses postulating radiation damage to large mammal populations at Chernobyl were supported by the empirical evidence,” says Jim Beasley, one of the researchers.
In fact, some of the populations have grown. These photos (mostly taken by Valeriy Yurko) come from the Belarusian side of the Exclusion Zone, and area called the Polessye State Radioecological Reserve. Kingfisher, elk, boar, baby spotted eagles, wild ponies, moose, rabbits, and wolves all make their home in the park. In some ways, human presence is worse for wildlife than a nuclear disaster.
- 1986 Chernobyl - ZUFAROV/AFP/Getty Images
- Wildlife photos - Valeriy Yurko/Polessye State Radioecological Reserve
- Ponies in winter - SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images