I have recently been enjoying the “Nature is Speaking” series. The message of each of these short videos is that we need nature; nature doesn’t need us. These videos reminded me of a documentary I saw a while ago called “Radioactive Wolves”. It was made to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear incident and is a fascinating study on just how well nature does without human involvement.
25 years has completely changed the landscape both around Chernobyl and within the zone so contaminated with radiation it’s uninhabitable by humans. Cultivated land and the deserted cities have all been reclaimed by wilderness. Man-made canals have been damned by beavers and the same beavers have undermined dykes thus returning drained marshland to its natural state. The area around Chernobyl has become an unintended refuge for endangered species; species that seem to thrive despite the fact that bones of moose test at 50 times normal levels of radiation and fish bones from the area close to the reactor are so contaminated they can’t be touched by bare hands.
Gray wolf, Eagle, and Peregrine falcons are the top predator species that thrive in this reclaimed wilderness. It doesn’t seem like thriving should be possible with the amount of radiation in the soil which is then taken up by the plants, eaten by the large herbivores and then consumed by the predators, but thrive they do. The health of their populations stems from the fact that the area is toxic and thus lost to humans.
And, it is toxic. The documentary referenced a six year study performed on dormice living within the contaminated zone. 4 to 6 percent of every generation shows some sign of abnormality, twice the rate of clean areas. Those rates are unacceptable to humans and with an estimate of Chernobyl being uninhabitable by humans for the next 20,000 years; these species will be able to continue their uninterrupted life cycles without human intervention.
Almost without human intervention. Bison were reintroduced into the Belarus side of the exclusion zone in the late 90’s and that decade saw wild horses being introduced on the Ukraine side. However, wherever there are humans trying to help, there are humans causing problems. Reproduction rates among the wild horses say there should be close to 200 individuals roaming the wilderness but poachers have brought that number closer to 60: a fact that seems to reinforce the Nature is Speaking message. Nature doesn’t need us and, indeed, seems to do much better without us.
Does it have to be this way? If human beings could realize our relationship with the world around us is symbiotic-our ability to thrive depends on the health of our environment-would we start living in balance with it rather than consuming its resources far faster than it can replenish itself? As always, I can’t answer for anyone but myself. I try to make the most responsible decisions I can and living in balance with my environment is an ongoing journey.