New York: A team of international researchers has discovered abundant wildlife population at Chernobyl, the site of the 1986 nuclear accident that released radioactive particles into the environment and forced a massive evacuation.
Abundant with moose, roe deer, wild boar and wolves, the disaster site in Ukraine looks more like a nature preserve than a disaster zone - nearly 30 years after the world's largest nuclear accident, the researchers reported.
Previous studies in the 1,621-square-mile Chernobyl Exclusion Zone showed evidence of major radiation effects and significantly reduced populations of wildlife.
For the first time since the Chernobyl accident, researchers have long-term census data that reveal thriving wildlife populations in the zone.
"Our data are a testament to the resiliency of wildlife when freed from direct human pressures such as habitat loss, fragmentation and persecution," said study co-author James Beasley, assistant professor of wildlife ecology at University of Georgia Savannah River Ecology Laboratory in Aiken, South Carolina, US.
"The multi-year data clearly show that a multitude of wildlife species are abundant throughout the zone, regardless of the level of radiation contamination," Beasley noted.
"This does not mean radiation is good for wildlife, just that the effects of human habitation, including hunting, farming and forestry, are a lot worse," team coordinator Jim Smith, professor of environmental science at the University of Portsmouth in Britain explained.
The number of moose, roe deer, red deer and wild boar living in the zone are similar to numbers in nearby uncontaminated nature reserves in the region, the results showed.
The census data on wolves in the area indicated they are seven times greater in number than those living in the nearby reserves.
Aerial census data collected from 1987-96 revealed rising numbers of moose, roe deer and wild boar in the zone.
The findings appeared in the journal Current Biology.