Chernobyl wildlife has a bright future thanks to this wolf
The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (CEZ) has often been written off as an eerie relic of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster. A contaminated and uninhabitable site covering 4,30km throughout Ukraine and Belarus, the CEZ seemed doomed to a tumbleweed ridden fate. Until now, that is – all thanks to an intrepid grey wolf.
Scientists have logged the creature’s movements, monitoring its 369km voyage from its home in CEZ over a 21-day period. The study began way back in February 2015, aided by the use of a GPS collar. It’s the first time on record that scientists have registered an animal leaving the CEZ at such a distance, and it bodes well for the future of wildlife in the region.
Animal inhabitants appear to be flourishing in the absence of their human counterparts (there’s a surprise), with the scientists commenting that the findings indicate good things for the spreading of animal populations in the region.
Michael Byrne, one of the researchers from the University of Missouri at Columbia, told LiveScience, “Instead of being an ecological black hole, the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone might actually act as a source of wildlife to help other populations in the region”. Nor is this deduction confined to wolves: “[I]t’s reasonable to assume similar things are happening with other animals as well”.
Meanwhile, scientists are still sifting over the data regarding the long-term impact of Chernobyl on wildlife, and many tests are yet to be undertaken. There’s a convoluted and incomplete picture at present, with records indicating high mutation rates in certain animals and vaguely growing population levels.
But the grey wolf (or Canis lupus) population has reportedly blossomed, with some estimates putting the population density inside the CEZ at seven times its outside equivalent. And now this intrepid wolf’s crusade to the outside of the CEZ provides an illuminating starting point for further study of animal movements outside the zone, with researchers commenting, “Considering the high population density of wolves specifically relative to neighbouring uncontaminated reserves […] it is appropriate to speculate that wolves born in the CEZ regularly disperse into surrounding populations”.
For their part, the researchers are optimistic: “It is worth exploring how the CEZ may serve as a source for some wildlife population rather than a sink as has previously been suggested,” they posit. From the tragedy of Chernobyl comes a modest and understudied silver lining; we’re looking forward to further research in coming years.
For now, the research has been published in the European Journal of Wildlife Research.
Header image: Gregory Smith, used under Creative Commons