Remarkable Recovery of Nature at Chernobyl

Following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster on April 26, 1986, pine trees in a ten square kilometer area around the power plant turned a ginger-brown color and died as a result of the absorption of excessive levels of radiation, resulting in the area becoming known as the Red Forest. Tens of thousands of people were evacuated in a 30 kilometer radius of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, with the understanding that the area, including the city of Pripyat, would never be habitable again. During the cleanup operations the pine trees of the Red Forest were bulldozed and buried in trenches referred to as ‘waste graveyards’. These trenches were then covered with a thick layer of sand in which young pine saplings were planted and managed to grow, albeit initially more as shrubs than trees.

The evacuated area around Chernobyl is still considered to be one of the most radioactive-contaminated areas in the world. Nevertheless, in addition to the pine saplings that were planted, other vegetation started to sprout and grow. Even more astonishing is the fact that wildlife has returned to the area, with some species now being found in greater numbers than pre-disaster days when it was occupied by humans. A recent set of photographs taken by researcher Sergiy Gaschak using cameras triggered by motion detectors revealed that packs of gray wolves and wild pigs roam and hunt or forage in the area. Other animals caught on camera include badgers, roe deer, fallow deer, elk, raccoon dogs and an eagle.

Researchers based at the International Radioecology Laboratory located just outside the no-go zone have noted that a number of rare animal species are returning to the area, and the flora is returning to the state that it was in before being inhabited by humans. Other animals reported in the area include moose, beavers, badgers, lynx and otters, while species attracted to living in areas inhabited by man, such as mice, rats, sparrows and pigeons, have declined in number. By the year 2009, up to eighty percent of the zone was reforested, with a total of 240 species of animals being counted there.

Visitors are warned, however, that the area is still considered unsafe to explore without proper precautions. There are a number of reputable tour operators in Ukraine that will take visitors to safely explore the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone – an excursion which is sure to leave a lasting impression.