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Despite Mutations, Chernobyl Wildlife Is Thriving
National Geographic ^ | April 26, 2006 | Kate Ravilious

Posted on 09/06/2012 5:25:40 PM PDT by grundle

Twenty years ago today, reactor number four at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant exploded. The blast covered vast areas of Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia with dangerous radioactive material.

The effects of the Chernobyl catastrophe are still being felt today—whole towns lie abandoned, and cancer rates in people living close to the affected areas are abnormally high.

But it turns out that the radioactive cloud may have a silver lining. Recent studies suggest that the 19-mile (30-kilometer) "exclusion zone" set up around the reactor has turned into a wildlife haven.

Image caption: A herd of Przewalski's horses roams Ukraine's Chernobyl "exclusion zone." These small horses were once found throughout the grassy plains of Mongolia, but hunting and habitat loss caused the species to go extinct in the wild. The lands near Chernobyl were blanketed by radiation two decades ago by the infamous nuclear reactor explosion. But a group of captive-bred horses released in the region in the 1990s, along with native wildlife, is now thriving there.

Roe deer bounce though the deserted houses while bats roost in the rafters (related photos: inside today's Chernobyl).

Plants and trees have sprung back to life, and rare species, such as lynx, Przewalski's horses, and eagle owls, are thriving where most humans fear to tread.

From Red to Green

The situation is a far cry from the way things looked just after the accident. Initially many animals died from the huge doses of radiation they received.

The red color of withered pine needles earned one large area near the reactor the name Red Forest.

"Now it is not the Red Forest but a real green forest, due to [growing] birch trees," said Sergey Gaschak from the International Radioecology Laboratory in Kiev, Ukraine.

And in the towns where humans have moved out, plants and animals seem to have moved in.

"Wild boar like to live in former villages, and I have found many birds' nests in the buildings," Gaschak said.

Even the site of the explosion seems to be bursting with life.

"I met a hare in the sarcophagus area, and birds nest there," said Gaschak, referring to the concrete and steel shell that encases the still smoldering reactor.

But while wildlife seems to be proliferating in the Chernobyl exclusion zone, not everyone is convinced that these plants and animals are healthy.

Anders Moller from the University of Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris, France, and Tim Mousseau from the University of South Carolina (USC) in Columbia have been studying Chernobyl's bird populations. Mousseau is a National Geographic Society grantee. (National Geographic News is part of the National Geographic Society.)

Moller and Mousseau have shown that certain species in the area have a higher rate of genetic abnormalities than normal.

"We find an elevated frequency of partial albinism in barn swallows, meaning they have tufts of white feathers," Mousseau said.

Late last year Moller and Mousseau published a paper in the Journal of Animal Ecology showing that reproductive rates and annual survival rates are much lower in the Chernobyl birds than in control populations.

"In Italy around 40 percent of the barn swallows return each year, whereas the annual survival rate is 15 percent or less for Chernobyl," Mousseau said.

Moller and Mousseau think that migratory species, such as the barn swallow, are particularly vulnerable to radioactive contaminants, because they arrive in the area exhausted and with depleted reserves of protective antioxidants due to their arduous journey.

The scientists are also concerned that the mutated birds will pass on their abnormal genes to the global population.

"In the worst case scenario these genetic mutations will spread out, and the species as a whole may experience enhanced levels of mutation," Mousseau said.

"Great Irony"

Mutation isn't the only adverse effect of the radiation. Working in the Red Forest area, James Morris, a USC biologist, has observed some trees with very strange twisted shapes.

The radiation, he says, is confusing the hormone signal that the trees use to determine which direction to grow.

"These trees are having a terrible time knowing which way is up," Morris said.

Gaschak, the Kiev ecologist, believes such radiation effects will diminish over time. He is celebrating the way that Chernobyl has burst into life and hopes that the area will become a national park one day.

But Mousseau is less optimistic. "One of the great ironies of this particular tragedy is that many animals are doing considerably better than when the humans were there," he said.

"But it would be a mistake to conclude they are doing better than in a control area. We just don't know what is normal [for Chernobyl]. There just haven't been enough scientific studies done."


TOPICS: Miscellaneous
KEYWORDS:

1 posted on 09/06/2012 5:25:43 PM PDT by grundle
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To: grundle

Yea, I guess you can get use to seeing five legged dogs and two headed pigeons. Just say’n


2 posted on 09/06/2012 5:29:44 PM PDT by doc1019 (Given my choices, I will not be voting this time around.)
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To: grundle

I’ve read that tees were especially hard hit due to the way radiation settles in dense tissue like wood.


3 posted on 09/06/2012 5:32:35 PM PDT by cripplecreek (What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?)
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To: grundle

Those mutations will eventually take care of themselves. The fact that they are thriving now, suggests strongly the area will recover.


4 posted on 09/06/2012 5:33:31 PM PDT by Jonty30 (What Islam and secularism have in common is that they are both death cults.)
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To: grundle

5 posted on 09/06/2012 5:34:52 PM PDT by COBOL2Java (FUMR)
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To: grundle
I think I'll just take my dog, Chernobus, for a walk...


6 posted on 09/06/2012 5:37:26 PM PDT by Mormon Cricket
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To: grundle
Despite Mutations, Chernobyl Wildlife Is Thriving


7 posted on 09/06/2012 5:39:13 PM PDT by Jagdgewehr (It will take blood)
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To: grundle

8 posted on 09/06/2012 5:40:33 PM PDT by Jeff Chandler (Whatever a homosexual union might be or represent, it is not physically marital. - F.Cardinal George)
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To: cripplecreek

Maybe that’s why I suddenly developed a nasty slice!


9 posted on 09/06/2012 5:41:25 PM PDT by Coastie (CPO retired)
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To: Coastie

PGA outlaws tees from Chernobyl


10 posted on 09/06/2012 5:43:55 PM PDT by bamabound (teach them how to think, not what to think!)
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To: doc1019

How about the tri-mamarous woman from Total Recall?


11 posted on 09/06/2012 5:52:47 PM PDT by DuncanWaring (The Lord uses the good ones; the bad ones use the Lord.)
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To: doc1019
Yea, I guess you can get use to seeing five legged dogs and two headed pigeons. Just say’n

I read somewhere a 6 legged horse can run much faster than a 4 or 5 legged one can.

12 posted on 09/06/2012 5:52:58 PM PDT by BerryDingle (I know how to deal with communists, I still wear their scars on my back from Hollywood-Ronald Reagan)
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To: doc1019

“Yea, I guess you can get use to seeing five legged dogs and two headed pigeons”

Yeah, I hear ya. But those two-assed monkeys...man they still creep me out.


13 posted on 09/06/2012 5:55:01 PM PDT by Nik Naym (It's not my fault... I have compulsive smartass disorder.)
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To: cripplecreek

Real tough on golfer’s.....


14 posted on 09/06/2012 5:55:45 PM PDT by Osage Orange ( Liberalism, ideas so good they have to be mandatory.)
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To: grundle

I think we all need a Vault-Tec approved briefing regarding what may be found at Chernobyl.

15 posted on 09/06/2012 5:58:24 PM PDT by KC_Lion ( Wherever I find myself standing, I forever stand with Israel.)
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To: grundle

I’ve seen video of the giant catfish now living in the cooling ponds. I’m not sure if they’re mutated but they are gnarly big.


16 posted on 09/06/2012 5:58:49 PM PDT by BillyBonebrake
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To: grundle; Eaker

17 posted on 09/06/2012 6:02:03 PM PDT by al baby (“If Barack Obama has a Harvard law degree, he didn’t earn that. Somebody else made that happen.”)
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To: Jeff Chandler


18 posted on 09/06/2012 6:05:41 PM PDT by BlueDragon (going to change my name to "Nobody" then run for elective office)
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To: grundle
We're here!


19 posted on 09/06/2012 6:14:46 PM PDT by carriage_hill (Harry Reid [PERVERT-NV] has Vickie-the-goat in lingerie & stiletto heels, tied-up in his office.)
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To: SJackson

wildlife ping


20 posted on 09/06/2012 6:26:39 PM PDT by randita
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To: grundle
Prayers for the victims of Chernobyl.

They've turned Chernobyl into a legend with the combination of the fiction within the story "Roadside Picnic" and the STALKER movie.

It's turned into one of the most fascinating science fiction genres in modern times.

Here's the text to the book for anyone with a tablet

21 posted on 09/06/2012 6:43:12 PM PDT by Caipirabob (Communists... Socialists... Democrats...Traitors... Who can tell the difference?)
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To: al baby; grundle

Hey, I know that guy!


22 posted on 09/06/2012 6:46:36 PM PDT by Eaker (Stripping Americans of their freedom and dignity and rubbing their noses in it is a very bad idea.)
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To: grundle; All

An interesting film/documentary:”Inside Chernobyl (2012)”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YfulqRdDbsg


23 posted on 09/06/2012 7:23:38 PM PDT by deltaromeo11 (Luke 16:31, Gen 7:16)
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To: Nik Naym
But those two-assed monkeys...man they still creep me out.

Well, then, turn off the Democrat National Convention!

24 posted on 09/06/2012 7:26:24 PM PDT by Fast Moving Angel (A moral wrong is not a civil right: No religious sanction of an irreligious act.)
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To: deltaromeo11

Thanks for the link.


25 posted on 09/06/2012 9:00:14 PM PDT by grundle
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To: grundle

“The scientists are also concerned that the mutated birds will pass on their abnormal genes to the global population.

“In the worst case scenario these genetic mutations will spread out, and the species as a whole may experience enhanced levels of mutation,” Mousseau said. “

How do you say MOTHRA in RUSSIAN ?


26 posted on 09/07/2012 1:32:16 PM PDT by UCANSEE2 ( If you think I'm crazy, just wait until you talk to my invisible friend.)
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