Wild animals are thriving in Chernobyl 30 years after the nuclear accident, a new study has revealed.

A camera study conducted by researchers from the University of Georgia's Savannah River Ecology Laboratory (SREL) validated previous findings that wildlife continues to flourish in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (CEZ), decades after the nuclear mishap.

Early observations that used animal tracks have established that the CEZ is teeming with wildlife, but the new study is the first remote-camera scent-station survey that documented prevalent species in the CEZ. The team is lead by James Beasley, an assistant professor at SREL and Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources. Their camera study found that the levels of radiation do not have an effect on animal distribution.

Beasley said their observations substantiate what previous studies have found - wildlife in the exclusion zone are adapting and benefitting from long-term radiation exposure.

"For this study, we deployed cameras in a systematic way across the entire Belarus section of the CEZ and captured photographic evidence - strong evidence - because these are pictures that everyone can see," Beasley said.

The team covered 94 sites where they remotely set up 30 cameras, equipped with fatty acid scent to attract the animals, on a tree or tree-like structures for seven days in each location. To prevent animals from visiting more than one station a day, the team placed the camera stations 2 miles apart. The observation lasted for five weeks.

Using this remote camera scent-station method, the researchers were able to document the species and its frequency of visits.

Sarah Webster, a graduate student at SREL and Warnell said that their monitoring focused on carnivores due to its hierarchy on the food chain, making them susceptible to contamination. She added that only a few studies investigated the effects of contamination levels in carnivores.

"Carnivores are often in higher trophic levels of ecosystem food webs, so they are susceptible to bioaccumulation of contaminants," Webster said.

The researchers were able to document that the highly contaminated areas were frequented by 14 mammalian species, which includes Eurasian boar, gray wolf, red fox, and a canid species common in Europe and East Asia.

Beasley concluded that the animals prefer to visit areas that have their basic necessities such as water and food. He added that more studies should be done to assess wildlife density and the wildlife survival rates.

The study was published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

On April 26, 1986, the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant located in Ukraine exploded due to a flaw in the reactor's design. The fire and steam explosion released 5 percent of the radioactive reactor core into the atmosphere. Although the area was fully contained, the accident still contributes to a number of health and environmental issues.

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