It's a plot from a Cold War B-movie: nuclear fallout produces dangerous mutant animals that cannot be controlled because of the radioactivity of their environment. The Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine suffered a meltdown in 1986, leaving the surrounding area so radioactive that an exclusion zone was designated for 30 kilometers in each direction of the plant. A few residents refused to leave, but thousands of people moved away. Scientists consider the zone too dangerous to live in, although it is open to tourism and a few people work there on a strict time limit. With so few people, nature has taken over.
Numerous investigations into the effects of Chernobyl's radioactive fallout on its surroundings have returned conflicting results. While some studies have found that local wildlife suffered, others have discovered evidence that wildlife has prospered, likely because the exclusion zone — devoid of people — has "become a de facto nature reserve," study lead author Michael Byrne, a wildlife ecologist at the University of Missouri at Columbia, told Live Science.
Gray wolves have especially flourished in the exclusion zone, "with their population density within the zone estimated at up to seven times greater than in surrounding reserves," Byrne said. Given this high population density, the researchers expected that some wolves born within the zone would disperse into the surrounding landscapes, "since one area can hold only so many large predators," Byrne said.
Now, for the first time, "we have tracked a young wolf that has definitely left the exclusion zone," Byrne said.
Of 14 wolves fitted with trackers, one juvenile was found to have left the exclusion zone. But no one knows where it is now, because the tracker has malfunctioned. Nor do we know how many others may have wandered outside the zone. The Invasion of the Mutant Wolves may be coming to a theater near you as soon as someone writes the script. Read more about the wolves of Chernobyl at LiveScience. -via Fark
(Image credit: Eric Kilby)