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Gray Wolves From Chernobyl Nuclear Zone Could Spread Mutant Genes

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For the first time, a group of researchers has tracked a juvenile gray wolf venturing out from the Chernobyl radioactive exclusion zone, farther into the outside world.

What the researchers observed raised a question on whether the animals thriving inside the nuclear disaster site could spread mutant genes that can be passed on with other species once they are living outside of the zone. The team said this is a possibility but something that should not be worrisome.

For the meantime, the team said these wolves will continue to venture out the zone as their population continues to increase. At present, the population of these animals living inside is estimated to be around seven times larger than their fellow wolves living in other nearby wildlife reserves.

Gray Wolves In Chernobyl Disaster Zone

For their study published in the European Journal of Wildlife Research on June 15 the scientists fitted 14 gray wolves with GPS collars and tracked their daily activities. Thirteen of the wolves were adults, and one was a male juvenile.

The adult wolves were more inclined to stay within the boundary of the Chernobyl nuclear zone. The juvenile wolf, however, has a completely different story.

The young wolf moved farther and farther away from the zone. Within 21 days, it was already 186 miles away from its home. The animal continued to wander beyond for about three months until its GPS malfunctioned and scientists could no longer find him.

The researchers from the University of Missouri at Columbia had lost all contact with the young animal. They were not able to find out whether he came back home or found another haven somewhere.

Nevertheless, the study became proof that instead of being a hostile environment, the Chernobyl exclusion zone can, in fact, be a source of rich wildlife that can spread across the region when these animals finally venture out.

"[W]hether animals born in the exclusion zone are bringing mutations with them as they go out into the landscape ... is an interesting area of future research," said Michael Byrne, lead author of the study. As of now, they have no evidence to support that the gray wolves are spreading mutant genes, he added.

Their findings may not only be exclusive to the gray wolves but also to all other animals living inside the zone.

Wildlife Inside Chernobyl Exclusion Zone

In 2016, a project called Transfer, Exposure and Effects said that wild boar, elk, and deer have also thrived inside the zone. There had also been sightings of lynx and the endangered European bison. The population of the Przewalski's horses, an extremely rare breed of horses, had also been doing well.

In 2014, Sergei Gashchak, a Ukrainian biologist who pioneered the biodiversity research in Chernobyl, saw a brown bear inside the zone. The species was not endangered, but that moment was the first time in over a century that a brown bear was seen in the region.

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