Wildlife Is Now Thriving Again in Chernobyl–Even If Humans Won’t for Another 24,000 Years

In Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 sci-fi film Stalk­er, a mys­te­ri­ous arti­fact ren­ders a land­scape called the Zone inhos­pitable for humans. As crit­ics have often point­ed out, a trag­ic irony may have killed the direc­tor and some of the crew a few years lat­er. Shoot­ing for months on end in a dis­used refin­ery in Esto­nia exposed them to high lev­els of tox­ic chem­i­cals. Tarkovsky died of can­cer in 1986, just a few months after the dis­as­ter at Cher­nobyl. “It is sure­ly part of Stalk­er’s mys­tique,” Mark Le Fanu writes for Cri­te­ri­on, “that in some strange way, Tarkovsky’s explo­rations … were to ‘proph­esy’ the destruc­tion… of the nuclear pow­er plant.”

Tarkovsky did not see the future. He adapt­ed a dystopi­an sto­ry writ­ten by broth­ers Arkady and Boris Stru­gatsky. “Cer­tain­ly,” writes Le Fanu, “there were many things in the Sovi­et Union at that time to be dystopi­an about.” But the film inspired a video game, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shad­ow of Cher­nobyl, which in turn inspired tourists to start “flock­ing to Cher­nobyl,” writes Katie Met­ti­er in The Wash­ing­ton Post: “fans of the video game… want­ed to see first­hand the nuclear waste­land they’d vis­it­ed in vir­tu­al real­i­ty.”

Ukraine may have suc­ceed­ed, thanks to these asso­ci­a­tions, in rebrand­ing Cher­nobyl for the so-called “dark tourism” set, but the area will not become hab­it­able again for some 24,000 years. Hab­it­able, that is, for humans. “Flo­ra and fau­na have bounced back” in Cher­nobyl, writes Ellen Gutoskey at Men­tal Floss, “and from what researchers can see, they appear to be thriv­ing.” They include “hun­dreds of plant and ani­mal species in the zone,” says Nick Beres­ford, a researcher at the UK Cen­tre for Ecol­o­gy and Hydrol­o­gy. “Includ­ing more than 60 [rare] species.”

Among the many ani­mals to return to the area are “Eureasian lynx, brown bear, black storks, and Euro­pean bison,” as well as elk, deer, boars, and wolves. Near­by crops are still show­ing high lev­els of con­t­a­m­i­na­tion. Accord­ing to the lat­est research, noth­ing that grows there should be eat­en by humans. And as one might expect, “muta­tions are more com­mon in Chernobyl’s plants and ani­mals than in those from oth­er regions,” Gutosky notes. But the harm caused by radi­a­tion pales by com­par­i­son with that posed by a con­stant human pres­ence.

Among the many species mak­ing their home in Cher­nobyl are the endan­gered Przewalski’s hors­es who num­bered around 30 when they were “released into the Cher­nobyl Exclu­sion Zone and left to their own devices…. Now it’s esti­mat­ed that at least 150 Przewalski’s hors­es roam the region.” The hor­rif­ic, human-caused acci­dent of Cher­nobyl has had the effect of clear­ing space for nature again. The area has become an unin­tend­ed exper­i­ment in what jour­nal­ist George Mon­biot calls “rewil­d­ing,” which he defines as “[tak­ing] down the fences, block­ing up the drainage ditch­es, enabling wildlife to spread.”

In order for the plan­et to “rewild,” to recov­er its bio­di­ver­si­ty and rebuild its ecosys­tems, humans need to step away, stop see­ing our­selves “as the guardians or the stew­ards of the plan­et,” says Mon­biot, “where­as I think it does best when we have as lit­tle influ­ence as we can get away with.” Tourists may come and go, but there may be no humans set­tling and build­ing  in Cher­nobyl for a few thou­sand years. For the species cur­rent­ly thriv­ing there, that’s appar­ent­ly for the best.

via Men­tal Floss

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Scenes from HBO’s Cher­nobyl v. Real Footage Shot in 1986: A Side-By-Side Com­par­i­son

The Ruins of Cher­nobyl Cap­tured in Three Haunt­ing, Drone-Shot Videos

Pret­ty Much Pop: A Cul­ture Pod­cast #4 – HBO’s “Cher­nobyl”: Why Do We Enjoy Watch­ing Suf­fer­ing?

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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