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With people removed, wildlife thriving in Chernobyl

Animals like elk, wild boar, red deer, and roe deer are flourishing in an unlikely place — Chernobyl.

It has been nearly 30 years since the 1986 Soviet nuclear disaster in Ukraine, and scientists wrote in a study published Monday in the journal Current Biology that radiation contamination is not keeping wildlife from thriving in the 1,600-square-mile Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, where people cannot live. "When humans are removed, nature flourishes — even in the wake of the world's worst nuclear accident," said Jim Smith, a specialist in earth and environmental sciences at Britain's University of Portsmouth. "It's very likely that wildlife numbers at Chernobyl are now much higher than they were before the accident."

Earlier studies conducted in the zone showed major radiation effects and a decrease in wildlife populations, Reuters reports, but Smith and his fellow researchers found that now, the population rates of elk, roe deer, red deer, and wild boar were close to those in four uncontaminated nature reserves in the area. The team also discovered that the number of wolves living in and around the site is more than seven times greater than in similar nature reserves. "These unique data showing a wide range of animals thriving within miles of a major nuclear accident illustrate the resilience of wildlife populations when freed from the pressures of human habitation," said study co-leader Jim Beasley of the University of Georgia. The researchers said looking at Chernobyl might provide insight into the long-term impact on wildlife following the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan.