The Brown Bear Returns to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone

(3BL Media/Justmeans) - Exciting news: scientists have captured what is believed to be the first photographic evidence of brown bears within the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (CEZ), an area set up after one of the world's worst nuclear accidents at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine in April 1986. This brown bear sighting is the first time one has been spotted in the area for a 100 years! After the 1986 explosion, more than 110,000 people were moved from their homes and a 30km-radius exclusion zone was established around the damaged nuclear reactor. Scientists are now studying the area to understand the risks that radioactivity poses to humans and wildlife. This cordoned area has become an eco-haven; the absence of humans has turned this space into a wildlife sanctuary.

The area has provided a valuable source of data for scientific research into the impact of radioactive contamination. The brown bear pictures were obtained by Sergey Gaschak, a Ukrainian collaborator with the British-run TREE (TRansfer, Exposure, Effects) research programme into the effects of radioactivity. Project leader Mike Wood from the University of Salford told BBC News, 'We are basically working on the assumption that as you move people out of the equation and human pressure and disturbance is removed, then any animals that have a corridor into the exclusion zone find they are suddenly away from the pressures and dangers presented by people.'

The TREE research programme aims to 'reduce uncertainty in estimating the risk to humans and wildlife associated with exposure to radioactivity and to reduce unnecessary conservatism in risk calculations.' The researchers will be focusing on three different areas of different levels of contamination to get a comprehensive overview of what’s happening to this space. As it seems the brown bear is not the only large mammal living in this region, images of lynxes, grey wolves, wild boar, elk, horses, and otters have also been captured.

The scientists will select one particular species to target for a trapping and collaring campaign. It means fitting collars with GPS to these animals with dose-measurement technology so that movements can be tracked over the course of a year to get a real measurement of the radiation exposure that these animals get.

Few animals capture the imagination like brown bears. They are a high priority in conservation: given their dependence on large natural areas, they are important management indicators for a number of other wildlife species. The global population of brown bears is estimated to be 200,000 plus. Russia has the largest number, believed to be over 100,000. Eight thousand are thought to remain in western Europe and the Carpathians (Slovakia, Poland, Ukraine and Romania). They are also thought to be found in Palestine, eastern Siberia and the Himalayan region, possibly the Atlas Mountains of northwest Africa, and Hokkaido (Japan). The species is still fairly common in the mountainous regions of western Canada and Alaska. In other parts of the U.S. fewer than 1,000 grizzly bears remain.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia