In 1986, a nuclear power plant in Chernobyl, Ukraine, unleashed a series of explosions, spreading radioactive fallout into the atmosphere and causing severe ecological damage. It came to be known as the Chernobyl disaster and devastated the surrounding regions. People and animals were exposed to this radiation, which sometimes caused mutations that made animals look almost other worldly.
Despite people evacuating the affected zones, animals stayed behind. And while these animals are highly radioactive, most of them saw their populations thrive. The animals that live in Chernobyl are the only occupants of the once-thriving city, and range from birds and eagles to wolves and bison. The radioactive Chernobyl animals do pose some threat to humans, however, and scientists are beginning to study them to truly understand how animals can adapt to living in a nuclear zone.
In The Radioactive Red Forest, Fierce Gray Wolves Reign High And Low
Following the disastrous fallout of the Chernobyl disaster, trees temporarily took on a rather peculiar shade of crimson, and the region within close proximity of the reactor received the moniker “Red Forest.” In the Red Forest, radioactive wolves are apex predators with some studies suggesting their population is approximately seven times higher than that of comparable refuge sites. These wolves consume prey covered in radiation with levels 50 times the normal amount. On the outside, they look and appear normal; however their behavior is far wilder than what we’re accustomed to.
With a surplus of more than 120 wolves - and possibly as many as 400 - this region maintains the highest density wolf population on the entire planet. An indigenous population of wolves is being born in the exclusion zone. Wolves roam nearby deserted villages without a care. They are known to cross the river during winter when the water freezes over.
They inhabit abandoned factories and buildings. Even their carcasses are toxic to human touch, but their fearlessness as they venture out past the exclusion zone armed with the power of numbers and an undying thirst for blood is what makes them truly terrifying.
A Lynx Once Thought To Be Non-Existent In The Area Thrives At Chernobyl
The Eurasian lynx is a cat once thought to have disappeared from Europe. But in 2014, scientists determined they made a comeback - to Chernobyl. Like a lot of other creatures in the radioactive zone, this species of lynx thrived because there were no humans to run them out. Hunters exterminated the species in the early 20th century in Europe, but they remained in parts of Siberia.
Now, several hundred of these little creatures call Chernobyl home. Because they're very elusive - and the zone itself is very dangerous - scientists haven't been able to determine how radioactive these creatures are. Researchers predict they have similar levels to other animals in the zone.
Swallows Living In The Red Zone Have Deformed Beaks
In the aftermath of the Chernobyl incident, it wasn't just the land animals who felt the effects of radiation. The harsh reality for birds in the event of nuclear disaster can be devastating. This was particularly true for barn swallows. In 2000, the barn swallow population was observed as having several horrific mutations.
From deformed beaks and disproportionate feathers to albinism and significantly smaller brains, their harrowing tale is a high flying threat and a terrifying foreshadowing of what could happen if more nuclear events precede Chernobyl in the future.
Radioactive Boars Stalk The Streets And Wind Up On People's Plates As Food
In the exclusion zone of Chernobyl and along the borders of outlining towns, radioactive boars intermingle with regular boars being used for food. Occasionally, these radioactive boars interact with humans as foe or food, both of which pose serious threats. It was recently confirmed that approximately one out of three boars killed in nearby Germany exhibited levels of radiation deemed completely unsafe for human consumption. This level of toxicity is spread as the boars continue to consume radioactive mushrooms in the fields.