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The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (CEZ) is a 1,660 square mile area surrounding the remains of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, which exploded on April 25, 1986, and released large amounts of radiation into the area. Living in the zone remains prohibited 32 years later, and the resulting lack of human presence has led some to call the zone a de-facto nature reserve. In particular, the gray wolf population in the zone has flourished, with the population density estimated to be up to seven times larger than in other nature reserves in the region. Now, for the first time, a researcher at the University of Missouri has tracked a wolf moving far outside the zone for an extended period of time, demonstrating that young wolves inside the CEZ are moving beyond it and potentially interacting with other wolf populations.
"When wolf populations get as dense as they are in the zone, the young must spread out to find their own space and resources," said Michael Byrne, an assistant professor in MU's School of Natural Resources and lead author on the study. "This young wolf was doing just that, and it shows us for the first time that Chernobyl wolves are dispersing into other areas."
Researchers - Conjunction - Savannah - River - Ecology
Researchers, working in conjunction with the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory at the University of Georgia, tracked 14 gray wolves in the Belarussian region of the zone—13 adults over 2 years old and one juvenile 1-2 years old—by fitting them with GPS collars. While the adult wolves maintained home ranges within the CEZ, the juvenile roamed far beyond the boundaries. The young wolf began to consistently move away from its home range three months after researchers began tracking its movements. Over the course of 21 days, the wolf traveled over 229 miles, ending up about 180 miles outside the zone.
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