Amidst the nuclear fascination and testing of the Cold War, a nuclear power plant in Chernobyl, Ukraine, experienced a series of detonations in 1986, 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 otherworldly.
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.
Following the disastrous fallout of the Chernobyl meltdown, trees temporarily took on a rather peculiar shade of crimson, and the region within the 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 sites.
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. Urbanization and hunters wiped out the species in the early 20th century in Western 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 radiation levels similar to other animals in the zone.
In the aftermath of the Chernobyl incident, it wasn't just the land animals who felt the effects of radiation. Birds have proven to be particularly affected by nuclear fallout. This is particularly true for the barn swallows around Chernobyl. In the early 2000s, the barn swallow population was observed to have several horrific mutations, including deformed beaks, disproportionate feathers, partial albinism, and significantly smaller brains.
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.
In 2017, it was confirmed that approximately one out of three boars slain 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.