Animals of Chernobyl: Meet the Mutants

On April 26, 1986 humanity’s greatest nuclear accident occurred: the Chernobyl incident.

Approximately 68 billion dollars in damages was incurred, and thousands of lives were lost as a direct result of radiation over the years. Almost everything that remained in the radioactive zone died within 6 months.

To this day projects are still working to monitor the region and prevent more radiation from spreading. New covers are made to minimize the damages.

Cesium-137 was the most dangerous chemical left to contaminate the region, which has a “half life” of about 30 years. This means that the contaminated areas will not be safe for modern human habituation for another 20,000 years.

But what about the animals that were living there?

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The Early Mutants of Chernobyl

Immediately following the Chernobyl incident, a large spike in oddly mutated animals occurred in the area along with farmers in the nearby regions observing their livestock being born with mutations.

Nearby countries such as Italy issued warnings to not consume certain products, such as milk, as a cloud of radiation spread across Europe- even reaching Britain!

Unlike the horror shows, mutated animals can’t typically reproduce. They die off quickly or can’t find a partner. Most previously healthy animals died as a result of radiation.

Insects disappeared especially quickly for reasons that aren’t entirely understood, but speculated at (more on this later).

Within the first 6 months to year of the incident, it appeared that wildlife had almost entirely disappeared.

The forests surrounding the city of Pripyat became silent. No more insects. No more birds. No howl of the wolves. True silence.

Chernobyl Today

That’s not the Chernobyl we know today. Despite a large region previously thought to be quite deadly, the current Chernobyl is filled with abundant wildlife.

In fact, the wildlife is so abundant in the region that some species appear to be faring better than before humans lived in the area! Some types of animals that were nearing extinction are finding themselves living happily in a human-free zone making it easier to thrive.

Examples of animals seen within the radioactive exclusion zone include horses, wolves, badgers, swans, moose, elk, turtles, deer, foxes, beavers, boars, bison, mink, hares, otters, lynx, eagles, rodents, storks, bats, and owls. 

As it was said in Jurassic Park: “Life finds a way.”

Normal Mutants

All because these animals live in a highly radioactive and dangerous zone doesn’t mean they look strange. The majority of mutations & defects are gone. Most animals today look completely normal, so much so you couldn’t tell the difference between normal animals.

That being said they aren’t normal- they’re 100% mutants. Their DNA has still been greatly affected, and even touching them could be dangerous for you as it is extremely radioactive.

Still, these creatures have been observed to be living healthy, normal lives. If anything some scientists speculate that wildlife is doing even better in the region than when humans used to live there.

In a way the exclusion zone has created a “safe haven” for wild creatures that can withstand the radiation because they don’t have to deal with humans hunting there, destroying their habitat, and taking their resources.

This area is theirs, and shall remain so for the next 20,000 or so years (unless humans adapt, too).

The Chernobyl Extinct

All that being said, not all creatures are thriving in the zone. Many creatures have disappeared entirely in the area.

Invertebrate populations including bees, butterflies, spiders, grasshoppers, and dragonflies have completely diminished. This is likely because the animals lay eggs in the top layer of soil, which contains high levels of radioactivity.

Still this isn’t completely understood as other animals (such as the wolves of Chernobyl) have large amounts of radiation on their skin but appear to be just fine.

As it turns out, the long-running saying of having to eat cock-roaches for food after a nuclear war may not hold true. You’d be blessed to not have to deal with any pests, and that doesn’t sound so bad!

What Does This Mean?

No scientist could’ve predicted just how fast (if at all) wildlife would’ve returned to the radioactive Chernobyl zone, but alas- it has. Life is going on. It has adapted.

Since the creation of the nuclear bomb many have wondered if it would be possible to completely wipe out life on Earth. While still not impossible, this unintentional science experiment reveals that life can adapt to almost anything.

The long-term effects still need to be studied and will continue to be studied. For now it appears these mutants have adapted, or had previous mutations that allow them to withstand radiation.

Humans in the Exclusion Zone

Wild animals aren’t the only creatures thriving in the exclusion zone! About 130 people still live in the highly radioactive zone.

During the evacuation about a thousand people decided to remain in Pripyat & the surrounding areas despite soldiers demanding they leave. Some were so determined to stay they demanded the soldiers “shoot us and bury us or let us stay.”

Now referred to as “Chernobyl’s Babushkas,” primarily because the remaining survivors are old women, these people live happy, functioning lives in the area. Some appear to be unaffected for the most part.

This may be because they were lucky not to stay in such radioactive areas. The radiation does not disperse evenly. Some areas are more dangerous than others.

However some people speculate that some people are able to resist radiation and thrive in it!

Wildlife in Chernobyl

It was originally believed that nothing could survive in such a contaminated region, but nature is proving us wrong. It seems that life adapts and “finds a way” no matter what.

Wildlife is thriving in the area and will likely continue thriving. It’s different, but life as a whole is going on despite the high levels of radiation.

This is still a very dangerous region for most humans to visit long-term due to the radiation effects, but it is possible some humans could have genetic mutations that allow them to survive in this.

What are your thoughts on this? Let us know.

-Wildlife x Team International

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