Chernobyl: Incredible reason why scientists are reintroducing wildlife into exclusion zone

The exclusion zone takes up an area of more than 4000 square km in Ukraine and Belarus. Anyone living inside this area was instructed to evacuate and never return. This affected around 335,000 people – 115,00 from the area surrounding the reactor in 1986 and a further 220,000 people from Belarus, Russia and Ukraine after 1986.

The abandoned towns in the exclusion zone have become overgrown and some have commented that they resemble a post-apocalyptic world.

The vegetation that has sprung up in the absence of humans in this area has actually increased the risk of wildfires.

For this reason, in 1998, Ukrainian zoologists released a herd of 30 endangered Przewalski horses native to Mongolia into the zone.

The aim was for the horses to graze on foliage and reduce the wildfire risk.

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There are now reportedly around 60 horses dispersed around the area, which consists of both forest and overgrown towns.

Dr Maryna Shkvyria, a researcher at Kiev Zoo said: “They’re really using the forests.

“We even put camera traps in old barns and buildings and they’re using them to shelter from mosquitoes and heat.

“They even lay down and sleep inside – they’re adapting to the zone.”

These horses are not the only wildlife here however – after all the humans left a number of species began to thrive.

Long-term studies have found there is more wildlife in abandoned villages than elsewhere in the zone, according to the BBC.

Brown bears, lynx and wild boar are found roaming around.

Sr Shkvyria has spent years tracking these mammals that moved in when the people moved out.

She found that wolves are particularly thriving in the area.

She said: “After 15 years of studying them, we have a lot of information about their behaviour.

“And the Chernobyl wolf is one of the most natural wolves in Ukraine.”

This means these wolves eat natural food, rather than human food.

She added: “Usually, wolves are around settlements. They can eat livestock, crops and waste food – even pets.”

In the exclusion zone however, the wolves hunt wild prey such as deer and fish.

That said, there have been studies that suggest living in a contaminated could be harming wildlife.

For example, there is evidence that birds in the most radioactive areas show signs of damage to their DNA.