Rare wild horses are seen living among abandoned homes in the Chernobyl exclusion zone after scientists set up hidden cameras
Mailonline, Daily Mail.com
Published: 06:39 EST, 30 October 2019; Updated: 09:33 EST, 30 October 2019
Rare wild horses have made their home in an abandoned exclusion zone set up after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear plant meltdown.
Przewalski’s horses, which are native to Mongolia, have been seen living in buildings in Belarus deserted following the nuclear power plant accident that killed 42 people at the time and led to the deaths of nearly 100 in the years that followed.
Motion-activated cameras set up by scientists captured more than 11,000 photographs of the stocky endangered species sheltering in empty barns and homes in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (CEZ) over the course of a year.
A total of 36 Przewalski’s horses were brought to the border of Belarus and Ukraine 15 years ago to increase biodiversity in the fall-out area.
Researchers at the University of Georgia found rare Przewalski’s horses using the abandoned structures near the Ukraine/Belarus border for cover for hours on end
More than 11,000 pictures of rare Przewalski’s horses were taken showing the equine species using barns as shelters in the Exclusion Zone (CEZ) in Belarus
Within four years, the population almost doubled – and now scientists have discovered the horses are taking advantage of the abandoned buildings in the CEZ, which stretches over Ukraine and Belarus.
Humans have not returned to the 1,600 square mile zone between Ukraine and Belarus but researchers have found evidence of wildlife thriving in the canals and rivers of the contaminated zone.
The horses were recorded 35 times at nine of the ten monitored structures during winter, and 149 times at all eight monitored structures over the summer by experts at the University of Georgia in the US.
Researchers found the horses, native to the steppes of Central Asia, use the structures to breed, shelter, and sleep and also take refuge from insects during summer months.
The CEZ is a 1,600 square mile zone that was abandoned in 1986 after an explosion in a power plant.
It sits in between Ukraine and Belarus and used to be part of the Soviet Union at the time of the meltdown.
A research team at the US-based University of Georgia set up cameras to record the horses sheltering, sleeping and breeding during the winters and summers
Led by Peter Schlichting, the research team also detected brown hares, red deer, moose, wild boars, red foxes, raccoon dogs, Eurasian lynx and wolves, and bat species.
He said: ‘Video footage could be a useful tool to track individuals during visits and be used in conjunction with cameras to fill in those gaps.’
James Beasley, a senior author on the research team’s report, said pinpointing the horses’ frequent use of the structures was vital.
He added: ‘Our results indicate Przewalski’s horses routinely use abandoned structures in the CEZ.
‘As a result, these structures can serve as important focal points for research and management to obtain key demographic information such as age, sex ratio, population size and genetic structure.’
Przewalski’s horses, named after the Russian geographer Nikolaj Przewalski who found them in Mongolia, might be the last remaining subspecies of truly wild horse.
Schlichting said the numbers are likely too low to sustain a population, and added: ‘When the size of a population is reduced, it has lost a lot of natural variation.’
Researchers suspect the endangered horses, native to the steppes of Central Asia, use the buildings abandoned after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster as refuge from insects during summer
The CEZ is a 1,600 square mile zone, that was abandoned in 1986 after an explosion in the Chernobyl power plant. The area sits between Ukraine and Belarus and used to be part of the Soviet Union. Humans have not returned to the zone or the nearby town of Pripyat
Chernobyl drone footage reveals nuclear material has gathered
University of Georgia’s research team now hopes to conduct future research in the Ukraine section of the zone, where the population was initially introduced.
Future studies could gather information on population numbers.
The research team hope the research will help them learn more about the behavioural patterns of Przewalski’s horses so they can save them.
Tourists can now visit the Unit 4 control room in Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the Ukraine after a 36,000-tonne structure called a New Safe Confinement (NSC) shield, costing £1.3 billion, was set up to seal in radioactive substances.
Reactor No. 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine exploded and burned on April 26, 1986, leading to thousands of premature deaths, hundreds of thousands of people being resettled and hundreds of billions of pounds worth of damage.
The blast showered radiation over the local area, including nearby regions of Belarus and other portions of Europe.