HUFFINGTON POST
04/06/2016 02:26 pm ET Updated Apr 07, 2016

30 Years After The Chernobyl Disaster, This Land Is Run By Wild Animals

Humans abandoned this zone in Belarus and Ukraine in 1986.
A white-tailed eagle lands on a wolf's carcass in the 30 km (19 miles) exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear reactor, i
Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters
A white-tailed eagle lands on a wolf's carcass in the 30 km (19 miles) exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear reactor, in the abandoned village of Dronki, Belarus, on Feb. 15, 2016.

What happens to the environment when humans disappear? Thirty years after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, booming populations of wolf, elk and other wildlife in the vast contaminated zone in Belarus and Ukraine provide a clue.

On April 26, 1986, a botched test at the nuclear plant in Ukraine, then a Soviet republic, sent clouds of smoldering radioactive material across large swathes of Europe. Over 100,000 people had to abandon the area permanently, leaving native animals the sole occupants of a cross-border "exclusion zone" roughly the size of Luxembourg.

  • A radiation sign is posted in a field near the exclusion zone.
    Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters
    A radiation sign is posted in a field near the exclusion zone.
  • A woodpecker looks out of a hollow in a tree.
    Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters
    A woodpecker looks out of a hollow in a tree.
  • An otter swims in a river in the exclusion zone around the nuclear reactor in the abandoned village of Pogonnoe, Belarus, on
    Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters
    An otter swims in a river in the exclusion zone around the nuclear reactor in the abandoned village of Pogonnoe, Belarus, on March 13, 2016.
  • A fox walks through the exclusion zone. 
    Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters
    A fox walks through the exclusion zone. 
  • A black stork flies through the exclusion zone around the nuclear reactor near Dronki, Belarus, on April 2, 2016.
    Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters
    A black stork flies through the exclusion zone around the nuclear reactor near Dronki, Belarus, on April 2, 2016.
  • A white-tailed eagle sits on the roof of an abandoned school in the abandoned village of Tulgovichi, Belarus, on Jan. 29, 201
    Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters
    A white-tailed eagle sits on the roof of an abandoned school in the abandoned village of Tulgovichi, Belarus, on Jan. 29, 2016.
  • A wolf looks into the camera in the abandoned village of Orevichi, Belarus, on March 2, 2016.
    Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters
    A wolf looks into the camera in the abandoned village of Orevichi, Belarus, on March 2, 2016.
  • Bison are seen at a bison nursery in exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear reactor near Dronki, Belarus, on Jan. 28, 20
    Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters
    Bison are seen at a bison nursery in exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear reactor near Dronki, Belarus, on Jan. 28, 2016.
  • A yellowhammer is seen on the remains of a house in Orevichi, Belarus, on March 12, 2016.
    Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters
    A yellowhammer is seen on the remains of a house in Orevichi, Belarus, on March 12, 2016.
  • A World War Two monument remains near the village of Babchin, Belarus, on Jan. 26, 2016.
    Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters
    A World War Two monument remains near the village of Babchin, Belarus, on Jan. 26, 2016.
  • Elk stand in the exclusion zone around the nuclear reactor near Dronki, Belarus, on Jan. 28, 2016.
    Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters
    Elk stand in the exclusion zone around the nuclear reactor near Dronki, Belarus, on Jan. 28, 2016.
  • A golden eagle approaches the remains of an elk near Babchin, Belarus, on March 16, 2016.
    Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters
    A golden eagle approaches the remains of an elk near Babchin, Belarus, on March 16, 2016.
  • Hunters drag wolves killed in a field near the village of Khrapkov, Belarus, on Jan. 27, 2016.
    Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters
    Hunters drag wolves killed in a field near the village of Khrapkov, Belarus, on Jan. 27, 2016.
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