Cameras capture Chernobyl's thriving wildlife 30 years after world's worst nuclear disaster

By Ben Miller | 14 April 2016

A two-day virtual reality event in Manchester is about to show what life looks like in Chernobyl - 30 years after Reactor 4 exploded

Modern Chernobyl is a “living laboratory” with a wide variety of wildlife thriving in a radiation zone abandoned by humans, according to a group of scientists who have created a high-tech headset which visitors can wear to look at various points around the reactor site.

Abandoned villages and a fairground which never opened are among the sights captured by almost 100 cameras on 90,000 “camera days”, producing more than 155,000 photos of medium and large European animals on the 30th anniversary of the world’s worst nuclear disaster.

A photo of wildlife in Chernobyl at Manchester's Museum of Science and Industry
The exhibition, Alienated Life, is about to open at Manchester's Museum of Science and Industry
They include badgers, beavers, elks, wolves and an elusive brown bear, as well as more than one type of deer. The public will be able to explore the wilderness of scenes around Chernobyl, hearing the hiss of wildlife and the sound of wind in the grass before moving to a second video montage installation explaining the bloom in biodiversity through camera trap footage projected onto four walls.

Concerted efforts to study Chernobyl have largely been limited to research by Ukrainian, Belarussian and Russian scientists in the aftermath of the disaster, usually published in Russian language publications. The team identified some of the original 30 Przewalski horses released into the Ukrainian side of the Exclusion Zone during the late 1990s, with other young and adult horses suggesting that the population is breeding well.

A photo of wildlife in Chernobyl at Manchester's Museum of Science and Industry
Lynxes in the snow of Chernobyl
Dr Mike Wood, an ecologist from the University of Salford, has observed the “astonishing resilience of nature” on the Ukrainian and Byelorussian border over recent weeks.

“Scientists have long suspected that that the impact of radiation on wildlife within the exclusion zone is much less than the impact of humans through forestry, agriculture and construction,” he says. “This exhibition begins to explain why in a very visual and engaging way.

A photo of wildlife in Chernobyl at Manchester's Museum of Science and Industry
“It allows people, through virtual reality, to visit the exclusion zone for themselves. What they see is not a barren, post-apocalyptic landscape but one of the few places on the planet that is getting wilder and more diverse.”

Roe deer numbers had increased ten times by 1996, with seven times more wolves in the zone than in comparable areas. More than 116,000 people were evacuated from an area the size of Northumbria when Reactor 4 released huge quantities of radioactive material on the morning of April 26 1986.

  • Alienated Life is at the Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester from April 23-24 2016.

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Three more wildlife exhibitions to see

Museums Sheffield: Weston Park
The permanent What on Earth display is an interactive introduction to the natural world and a showcase for Sheffield's amazing natural history collections.

Nunnington Hall, York
See the winning entries of the prestigious national British Wildlife Photography Awards exhibition, celebrating the diversity of the natural history of the British Isles. Until May 31 2016.

Nature in Art, Gloucestershire
A later chance to see the awards exhibition, including extraordinary pictures of our rarest animals and the wildlife on our doorstep.
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