Animals Run Wild in Chernobyl

ENVIRONMENT

Removing humans from the exclusion zone around the damaged Chernobyl nuclear reactor has allowed wildlife to return. (BBC)

What happened at Chernobyl? Use our resources to find out.

The new census of large mammals around Chernobyl focused on the exclusion zone in Belarus. Map by National Geographic

The new census of large mammals around Chernobyl focused on the exclusion zone in Belarus.
Map by National Geographic

Przewalski’s horses, an endangered species, were introduced to Chernobyl’s exclusion zone in 1998 to help restore biodiversity in the area. Photograph by Xopc, courtesy Wikimedia. CC-BY-SA-2.5.

Przewalski’s horses, an endangered species, were introduced to Chernobyl’s exclusion zone in 1998 to help restore biodiversity in the area.
Photograph by Xopc, courtesy Wikimedia. CC-BY-SA-2.5.

Discussion Ideas

  • The entire human population around the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station was evacuated in 1986. Why? Take a look at our short article on the disaster for some help.
    • According to our article, “workers in Reactor 4 attempted a test of an emergency cooling procedure. The reactor experienced a huge power surge. When workers tried to shut down the reactor, it resulted in an even larger power surge. Soon after, several large explosions turned into a fireball that eventually blew off the lid of the reactor. This released enormous amounts of radioactive material into the atmosphere—several times more than that of the atomic bombs dropped on Japan during World War II.”

 

  • Is the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Zone of Alienation (the exclusion zone) still radioactive?

 

  • The new study reports that the Chernobyl exclusion zone is teeming with animals—even more than were present before the 1986 disaster. Does this mean radioactivity is actually good for wildlife?

 

 

 

  • The new study is very focused and short, and should not be mistaken for a full report on the entire ecosystem at Chernobyl. What factors are missing from the study?
    • The new study does not “look at the health effects of radiation on individual animals.” Says study co-author Tom Hinton,
      • Without doubt, animals near Chernobyl and the Fukushima power plant in Japan—where three reactors melted down after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami—suffered genetic damage. The million-dollar question is: ‘What is the significance of this?’ We don’t really know.”
    • This study only applies to large mammals under hunting pressure rather than the vast majority of animals—most birds, small mammals, and insects—that are not directly influenced by human habitation,” says a scientist studying bird populations in the exclusion zone.

 

TEACHERS’ TOOLKIT

BBC: Wild mammals ‘have returned’ to Chernobyl

Nat Geo: 1986: Chernobyl Explodes

Travel to Ukraine: Chernobyl’s Wildlife Survivors (great photo gallery!)

The Trail Camera in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (photos)

Chasingame: Chernobyl Wildlife (photos)

(extra credit!) Current Biology: Long-term census data reveal abundant wildlife populations at Chernobyl

3 responses to “Animals Run Wild in Chernobyl

  1. Pingback: 11 Things We Learned this Week! | Nat Geo Education Blog·

  2. Pingback: 10 Things We Learned This Week! | Nat Geo Education Blog·

  3. Geography Standard 5.2.A

    I posted this article on the Social Studies Facebook page this morning.

    Shirley Starkey
    Social Studies Curriculum Specialist
    Moore Public Schools

    Like

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