Thursday, March 3, 2022

The wildlife of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone for World Wildlife Day 2022

Happy World Wildlife Day! I am taking my cue from the Russian invasion of Ukraine to re-examine the wildlife inhabiting the exclusion zone around Chernobyl. I begin with Channel 4 News in the UK's Chernobyl: inside the exclusion zone.

Channel 4 reuploaded this clip in 2019 and updated the description.
In 2015, we travelled to the Chernobyl exclusion zone. While the accident was a human catastrophe, it's providing scientists a unique living experiment in how nature copes with radiation..
As I wrote in 2015's Radioactive wolves: student sustainability video festival 35, "If anyone wants to see a post-human, post-apocalyptic landscape, one doesn't have to watch 'The Walking Dead.' One simply has to view images of the exclusion zone around Chernobyl."

I knew about the wolves and boars inside the exclusion zone, but the presence of Przewalski's horses and European bison surprised me. It turned out humans deliberately introduced both the horses and the bison, but the latter introduction happened in Belarus and the animals wandered into Ukraine's exclusion zone on their own. The giant catfish surprised me less, as I've seen the effect of people feeding fish in an area protected from fishing. My family used to visit a fish hatchery on vacation and feed them our leftover bait. Those were the largest rainbow trout I've ever seen!

Channel 4 showed that the removal of almost all resident humans has had a positive effect on biodiversity within the exclusion zone. What about the radiation? The Animals of Chernobyl by The New York Times shows the deleterious effects of radiation on the smaller organisms.

Biologist Timothy Mousseau has been studying the lasting effects of radiation on the flora and fauna of Chernobyl, Ukraine.
After the Chernobyl disaster humans haven't been allowed to live in the vicinity. That hasn't stopped animals and wildlife from moving into the radioactive area.
While the absence of humans is allowing the megafauna to return and apparently thrive, the smaller organisms, like the insects, spiders, and birds, are showing the effects of the persistent radiation.

Because Science looked at the research in its own smart but sensational way in Did Chernobyl Create Mutant Animals?

It's been over three decades since the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, and while the area remains unsafe for humans to return for long term inhabitation, the wildlife has remained and undergone its own changes in that time. While many might image that sort of radiation would result in bizarre mutations like two-headed deer or giant insects, could the aftermath of such an event actually be positive for the plants and animals that remained? Kyle ventures into the Exclusion Zone to take a closer look in this week's Because Science!
I'm going to say the same thing about Because Science, which I last embedded here in 2015, that I did about WatchMojo, that it's "high-quality, well-researched clickbait," albeit even better researched. As for the conclusion, I agree with Kyle Hill; it needs more research. Here's to hoping that the war hasn't destroyed the populations of large animals and caused even more devastation than the nuclear accident. I'm not optimistic about that.

That's it for World Wildlife Day. Stay tuned for Marching Music Day tomorrow.

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