You won’t find many people besides work crews and tourists in the Chernobyl “exclusion zone”—an irradiated, roughly 4,300 square kilometre swath of land encompassing the site of the 1986 nuclear catastrophe. But there is a lot of wildlife, so much, in fact, that some animals may be leaving the exclusion zone to find greener pastures.
The largely human-less exclusion zone now acts as a kind of nature preserve, particularly for gray wolves, according to a new study published in the European Journal for Wildlife Research. And for the first time researchers have observed one young gray wolf actually leave the exclusion zone, suggesting that the zone may actually be a source for new wildlife to populate the surrounding region.
There’s no evidence—yet—of the wolves spreading any genetic mutation they may have because they were born and raised in the irradiated zone, study author Michael Byrne told Live Science. The Chernobyl reactor meltdown displaced tens of thousands of people; its terror would only be rivalled decades later by the Fukushima Daiichi disaster in 2011. But without humans to interfere, nature left to its own devices has continued to thrive in the Chernobyl exclusion zone.
According to the study, in 2015 researchers used GPS to track a wolf that travelled 369 kilometres out of the zone over a period of 21 days, averaging around 16 kilometres of travel per day. It’s not known if the if the wolf returned to the exclusion zone or if it found a new life away from home; the GPS collar stopped working, Byrne said.
Life emerging from the site of one of the worst nuclear disasters in history is a wonder; it’s strange and awe-inspiring all at once. And you might be able to care for some of that new life yourself—nonprofit organization Clean Futures Fund is currently rescuing the dog puppies (!!!) that have proliferated in the zone without human control and putting them up for adoption in the US.
Life, my friends, life… finds a way.
Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter .