35 Years On, The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone Has Become Home To Rare And Endangered Species

by : Niamh Shackleton on : 10 May 2021 11:33
35 Years On The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone Has Become Home To Rare And Endangered SpeciesPA

Chernobyl has been dubbed the ‘world’s most unlikely nature reserve’ in the wake of it becoming home to masses of wildlife.

The city, which was once home to 350,000 people, was evacuated 35 years ago following the disaster that saw two devastating explosions at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.


More than three decades later, it’s still one of the world’s worst nuclear disasters to date. While the explosion devastated the city and left it abandoned, it appears as if wild animals have reclaimed it as their own.


Within the perimeters of Chernobyl’s exclusion zone (CEZ), which covers 2,800 square km of northern Ukraine, wildlife is thriving – including Przewalski’s horses, EuroNews reports.

The horses were long believed to be the only remaining wild horses on the planet, and were sadly almost rendered extinct in the 1970s. However, through conservation work, the species was rescued.


Now hundreds of the beautiful horses live in the wild in the likes of Asia and Europe, as well in Chernobyl; something which has come as a surprise to many.

Meanwhile, other species such as wild boar, elk and roe deer have seen their numbers skyrocket in the wake of the nuclear disaster, the UN environment programme (UNEP) reports. As of September of last year, the Chernobyl exclusion zone was the third-largest nature reserve in mainland Europe.

In the wake of the surging numbers of wildlife in Chernobyl, UNEP began a project in 2015 named ‘Conserving, Enhancing and Managing Carbon Stocks and Biodiversity in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone’ in partnership with Ukraine’s Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources and the State Agency on the CEZ.


Research in the Belarussian sector of the exclusion zone found that the wolf population had increased seven-fold.

James Smith from the School of Environmental, Geographical and Geological Sciences, University of Portsmouth in the UK, said, ‘Our research with Belarussian colleagues has found mammal populations in the reserve similar to other nature reserves in the region. Wolf numbers are seven times higher, likely due to much lower hunting pressure in the CEZ.’

Nick Beresford from the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, who worked with Smith on the research, added:


Our camera trap surveys in Ukraine have photographed Eurasian lynx, brown bear, black storks and European bison. Ukrainian and Belarussian researchers have recorded hundreds of plant and animal species in the zone, including more than 60 [rare] species.

Meanwhile, Sergiy Zibtsev, a forestry expert at the National University of Life and Environmental Sciences of Ukraine, called it ‘ironic’ that it took a nuclear disaster to improve the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone’s ecosystem.

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Niamh Shackleton

Niamh Shackleton is a pint sized person and journalist at UNILAD. After studying Multimedia Journalism at the University of Salford, she did a year at Caters News Agency as a features writer in Birmingham before deciding that Manchester is (arguably) one of the best places in the world, and therefore moved back up north. She's also UNILAD's unofficial crazy animal lady.

Topics: Animals, Chernobyl, Now, Ukraine


EuroNews and 1 other
  1. EuroNews

    The world's most unlikely nature reserve: Wildlife's thriving in Chernobyl

  2. UN Environment Programme

    How Chernobyl has become an unexpected haven for wildlife