More than 30 years after the Chernobyl disaster, no people can live in the area — but the animal population is thriving

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Bison are seen at a nursery in the 19-mile exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear reactor near the abandoned village of Dronki, Belarus.
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Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters

After the Chernobyl nuclear disaster happened in 1986, 116,000 people in the exclusion area were forced to leave their homes permanently. The empty area has been completely abandoned ever since – with the exception of a somewhat newly developed wildlife population.

Due to the lack of human life in the region, scientists are saying it’s possible that the number of animals in the area is now higher than it was 30 years ago. Today you can find elk, deer, wolves, bison, and dozens of other species. On top of that, the growing population of wolves in the area has become a direct threat to nearby livestock. Local farms are paying hunters for each wolf they capture and kill.

Ahead, see images of wildlife that have swarmed the highly toxic area.

Courtney Verrill contributed reporting to a previous version of this article.


Chernobyl is still unsafe for humans due to the high levels of radiation found there.

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Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters

Despite earlier studies that suggested wildlife in the region could also suffer from radiation, scientists have found no evidence to support these claims.

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Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters

Source: Independent


Researchers think that wildlife returned to the area because it has been almost completely untouched by humans, which has allowed certain species to thrive.

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Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters

Source: Live Science


Many of the animals are taking advantage of the fact that there is no human life around.

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Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters

Scientists have found that the population of wolves is seven times greater here than in nearby reserves.

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Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters

Source: Live Science


Near the Belarus-Ukraine border, local livestock farmers are offering hunters an incentive to hunt the wolves who are killing their farm animals.

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Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters

Source: Reuters


Hunters like Belarusian hunter Vladimir Krivenchik and his wife make $80 per wolf they kill.

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Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters

In 2016, about 1,700 wolves were hunted and killed.

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Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters

Source: Reuters


Though the lingering radiation is unhealthy for the wildlife, the effects of human activity — like hunting, farming, and forestry — are worse on the animals.

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Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters

Source: USA Today


Larger mammals, such as bison, are more likely to live in this area than smaller mammals.

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Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters

The European brown bear — an animal that hasn’t been seen here in over a century — has been documented as living in the region. The area’s more popular animals, like bison, live in herds.

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Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters

Source: Tree Hugger


Birds are a huge part of the wildlife surrounding Chernobyl.

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Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters

White-tailed eagles are common in the nuclear zone.

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Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters

There are even foxes walking around.

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Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters

Otters are found swimming in the rivers.

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Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters

Every day the area looks less like a disaster site and more like a nature preserve.

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Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters

There are still ongoing studies to find out if radiation has a negative effect on animals to the point where it will harm or kill them.

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Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters