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Meet the Extreme Wildlife of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone

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Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine is known as the worst nuclear disaster that humankind has ever seen. A simple mistake led to a real disaster, to more than 300,000 people losing their homes, and even more suffering from radiation and health defects. Even today, very few people live and work within what is known as the “Chernobyl Exclusion Zone,” and only rare ones aren’t afraid to step into this radioactive field.

Scientists believed that Chernobyl and its area won’t be accessible to living beings for centuries, due to severe radiation. However, something extraordinary happened – the Chernobyl wildlife started booming! Read on to see how animals took over the human’s most devastating corner of the Planet.

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25. A Simple Safety Test Gone Wrong

On Saturday, April 26, 1986, a horrible accident at the No. 4 reactor occurred at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant near the Ukrainian town of Pripyat.

The most surprising fact here is that the accident happened during a safety test. That’s right, scientists wanted to test out a new method for cooling down the reactors, and to do so, they had to shut off the power to simulate a blackout. Then, a disaster happened.

24. Disaster

The safety test led to a power rush that caused an explosion. Did you know that at first Ukraine decided not to inform the world about this disastrous event?

When the explosion occurred two people were killed instantly and radiation was immediately released into the atmosphere. The government and military, together with special forces, reacted immediately and evacuated around 300,000 people from the area. That area is today known as Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. What came next was more mortifying than the explosion itself.

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23. The Harmful Effects of Radiation

You know that radiation is dangerous because it damages the cells that make up the human body. A certain level of radiation is not dangerous, while medium levels can lead to headaches, vomiting, and a fever.

High levels of radiation can lead to damage of internal organs, various body deformities, and even death. That’s exactly what happened when the reactor in Chernobyl exploded. The health effects of radiation were the most devastating in expecting mothers.

22. Effects of Radiation On Expecting Motheres

The health effects of radiation were best seen in babies. Expecting mothers who were near Chernobyl went through heavy radiations, and although they were carrying healthy babies, they eventually deliver babies with extra or missing limbs.

This was devastating for parents and it really shocked the world. Everyone knew that heavy radiation was bad, but people had no idea just how much radiation was dangerous. Plus, instances of genetically related birth deformities went up by a staggering 250%.

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21. Chernobyl Today

The famous Exclusion Zone spans from Ukraine into Belarus is even today human-free. Its biggest percent is uninhabited by humans since there is still radiation happening.

Even those who work within the Exclusion zone are allowed to work for five hours a day for one month at a time. After that, they must have a 15-day rest. However, the story isn’t all bad…

20. A Sci-Fi Movie

Does the Exclusion Zone sound like something that only George Orwell would write about? It certainly does. After all, seeing these photos can only give you more ideas about ghost towns.

Now, as you may guess already, humans weren’t the only ones living here when the explosion occurred. There were animals also. Here is what happened to them.

19. Animals Destiny

So, when the explosion happened, people had to run. The government representatives came and pushed people to move immediately. Thats why you can see homes as they were. Some people left their plates as they run toward radiation-free areas. Not only that they had to leave their homes, their sanctuaries, and their hometown, but they had to leave their animals behind as well.

The government was afraid that animals would spread the radiation further, so they had all animals within the area killed, both domestic and wild. However, a few years later they decided to come back…

18. An Animal Sanctuary

At first, considering how devastating the explosion was, sciences believed that no animal life would return in centuries. However, since the area was without humans for decades, animals decided to return a bit earlier.

In no time, the Chernobyl area and Pripyat become one of Europe’s biggest wildlife sanctuaries – about 1,600 square miles to be exact. Sadly, animals went through massive changes due to radiation.

17. Thriving No Matter What

Animals started returning one by one, and it seemed as the animal kingdom is thriving. Although this was the case in a way, we mustn’t forget that there was a reason for animal return.

A high number of animals was possible because there was no human population and no natural predators. Sadly, the Chernobyl disaster was and is still exactly that…a disaster. Animals also suffered due to massive mutations.

16. Animal Mutations

Animals of Chernobyl had a tough time. A year after the disaster, farmers started complaining. Their animals were born with strange defects – some with missing limbs, too many limbs, or deformed faces, for example.

It seemed that they went through changes similar to humans. Radiation got them badly. When radiation hits, both humans and animals cannot avoid it. Here is why.

15. So How Does Radiation Cause Mutations?

There are two types of mutations caused by radiation. One occurs when germline mutations can be passed down to offspring. The second one occurs when then there are mutations that affect the cellular DNA that can cause cancer.

These are generally not passed down to offspring. Animals and humans went through both radiation types. Still, there was some difference in mutation in animals. Here is how.

14. How Radiation Affects Animals

Radiation spread within animlas has a specific flow. Usually, small animals ingest the radiation through the foods that they eat. A smaller animal, such as a squirrel might consume a radioactive mushroom, and radiation will get passed up the food chain easily.

How? Typically, a smaller animal gets eaten by a larger animal and that’s how radiation is spread. The food chain has its ups and downs. Here is what was the second-worst disaster for animals of Chernobyl.

13. Fires at Chernobyl

The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone was home to a devastating fire, as well. Fire, next to radiation is horrible because it can help spread radiation even faster and further.

Authorities have largely left the forests in the area alone, so materials like deadwood (which easily catch fire) have been able to pile up. That way, radiation spread together with the heavy smoke for miles.

12. For the Birds

Birds were affected as well. Since the fire could spread wider it’s no surprise that so many birds were affected eventually. In birds, radiation has also lead to mutations.

In birds, the mutation could be easily seen, since the majority of birds turn white. Some birds have higher rates of albinism, while some have smaller brains and decreased cognitive ability.

11. Giant Catfish

Chernobyl’s radioactive cooling pond is home to an unusual type of fish. In fact, this famous pond is home to very large catfish. However, this fish has nothing to do with radiation.

At least, their size isn’t directly linked to radiation. In fact, they are giant because they have no natural predators. They have no competition in the cooling pond and they eat everything. As result, they are large.

10. Already Showing Signs of Evolution

We all know that evolution is a slow and sometimes painful process. However, Chernobyl animals have already shown signs of evolution in just a few decades, which is remarkable!

Frogs in the Exclusion Zone are a darker shade of green than their counterparts outside of the zone, which indicates that they’ve adapted to be more resistant to radiation. What about the bugs?

9. The Bugs are Alright

Have you ever heard about that theory that bugs would survive a nuclear attack? It turns out that those rumors are legit. What about bugs in Chernobyl?

It turns out that some insects that have been subjected to the worst radiation levels had a shorter lifespan. Also, certain species still managed to thrive regardless of radiation levels. How? They were able to reproduce quickly enough to make up for not living as long.

8. What About Dogs?

What about domestic animals today in Chernobyl? if you choose to visit Chernobyl now, you would see adults and puppies walking around. When you see a dog on the street it seems logical to approach the pooch and pet him, right?

However, that is a big no-no in the Chernobyl area. Many of them are the descendants of pet dogs that families were forced to leave behind when they evacuated the area.

7. It’s Hard To Be A Dog In Chernobyl

As adorable and beautiful as these dogs get, they are not living as regular dogs do. They have to deal with predators, compete for food, and survive the long and harsh winters of Ukraine.

Since they are, unfortunately, radioactive they have shorter lifespans than an average pet dog outside of the Exclusion Zone. Still, they manage to survive.

6. They Still Make It Work

As usual, Chernobyl dogs have figured out how to survive. One of their strategies includes finding humans first. They do their best to find humans and beg for food.

Dogs just being dogs, right? Since visitors do come to Chernobyl, they beg for human food at the local cafes. Honestly, who would say no to Chernobyl dogs?

5. Should You Pet The Puppies?

So, is it safe to pet them? Should you pet them as soon as they approach you? The answer is, no. You shouldn’t pet them because they have radioactive materials on them unless they are being washed.

Luckily, there is a non-profit veterinary clinic nearby that gives their best to help these animals. So, unless they let you pet the dogs, don’t do it otherwise.

4. There Are Also Wolves Around

Chernobyl’s wolf population is on the rise. The wolf population is thriving in this part of the world. The wolf population is seven times bigger than outside of the Exclusion Zone. This is linked, once again, with the lack of humans.

There is no organized wolf hunting from the human side, and now they have no competition. But unfortunately, it’s not all good news for our wolf friends…

3. Thriving Can Be A Bad Thing

The wolf population is thriving so much that scientists are concerned about it. They are afraid that a significant wolf increase might help spread mutation.

Plus, wolves always can pass the mutation to their offspring. So far, the government hasn’t decided what would be the right thing to do about these options. Another wild animal is back in Chernobyl…

2. Brown Bears

Brown bears avoided Chernobyl and its surroundings for more than a century. One day, they just appeared. They have decided to make Chernobyl their new home, and so far it doesn’t seem as if they are about to leave any time soon.

Scientists have no idea how radiation may affect these big animlas. One is for sure: they have enough food in the area and scientists will have an opportunity to observe them.

1. The Eurasian Lynx

The Eurasian lynx is another animal that decided to return to the Chernobyl area after decades of being goner. No one saw this animal for decades near the power plant.

Now, thanks to hidden cameras, we know for sure that they are back for good. If they are anything like brown bears, they are here to stay. Honestly speaking, just how amazing-looking these animals are>?

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