A wolf was spotted leaving Chernobyl's 'exclusion zone'

09 Jul 2018 | Canada
A wolf was spotted leaving Chernobyl's 'exclusion zone'

It's a wildlife preserve unlike anywhere else on the planet. About 4,300 square kilometers of untamed wilderness, chock full of thriving populations of animal species that are going extinct everywhere else. Not only are humans not allowed to live here, but most wouldn't want to live here either.

Because, this is Chernobyl.

After the lethal 1986 nuclear explosion that left thousands dead from radioactive fallout, authorities created an exclusion zone around the reactor, forcing humans to flee, leaving everything behind. Soon, wildlife moved in to take advantage of the human-free landscape. Animals like moose, bears, and wolves now populate this massive area. And now, for the first time, researchers have spotted a wolf leaving this radioactive zone, and traveling over 300 kilometers away into neighbouring territories.

"It's kind of eerie. You go through and there's all these abandoned villages that are within the zone," says .Mike Byrne, a wildlife ecologist from University of Missouri. "If aliens came down right now and sucked all the humans off of Earth, what it might look like in 30 years, it's kind of like that. It's got this post apocalyptic feel to it."

Byrne went to Chernobyl in part to test newly-designed GPS collars with radioactive dosimeters installed. Considering that wolf populations in Chernobyl's exclusion zone are seven times more dense than in surrounding areas, it wasn't difficult to track them down.

"Some people before me had helped develop these to see if we could use them to understand free ranging wildlife, and the size of areas that they are actually exposed to. And then to study how the wolves move around the zone, how they move in relation to the radiation, and learn what we can, because these wolves haven't really been studied before in this matter."

The immediate observations were that radiation didn't affect where the animals went within the zone. Animals of all species took advantage of the lush, undisturbed habitat, all throughout the contaminated area. But soon the researchers watched as a juvenile wolf left the exclusion zone, travelling 370 kilometers over the next 21 days.

"Only so many animals can fit into one area and eventually resources become limited. And so some portion of the population has got to move out to make its own way in the world," he says. "What's cool about this is we finally saw it. So this is the kind of our first direct observation that that can happen."

 Byrne says there's no reason to fear this wandering wolf.

"You're not going to see glowing wolves on the landscape. If you went and you hugged one of these wolves you wouldn't die of radiation poisoning." UkrCanada.com