Move Over, Chernobyl Puppies: The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster Site Has a Vibrant Wildlife Scene, Too


Nuclear disaster sites are thought to be inhospitable to life, though time and a little luck can sometimes change course. At Chernobyl, bears, wolves, birds, and even dogs have persisted, though visitors are cautioned not to pet them, because their fur might harbor radioactive particles.

Now, there’s evidence of animal life thriving at another nuclear meltdown site. A new study in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment has confirmed that several species are making the radioactive area in Fukushima, Japan home.

While not as severe as the fallout in Chernobyl, the nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in 2011 following a massive earthquake and tsunami was catastrophic. Three nuclear reactors experienced a meltdown, prompting the Japanese government to evacuate and relocate more than 100,000 people from nearby homes.

Using cameras to capture activity across over 267,000 still frames, University of Georgia researchers found more than 20 animal species living in the Fukushima Evacuation Zone and two other less-restricted zones that limit human occupation. Wild boar, rabbits, macaque monkeys, pheasants, and foxes were all recorded.

A Japanese serow, or "goat-antelope," is caught on camera in the Fukushima Evacuation Zone.
A Japanese serow, or "goat-antelope," is caught on camera in the Fukushima Evacuation Zone. / UGA

While this study didn't evaluate the health of the animals in areas affected by radiation, their behavior seems to be consistent with normal patterns. Raccoons, for example, have remained nocturnal.

Researchers also discovered sika deer, weasels, and black bears within the confines of the affected area.

Though none of the recorded animals appear to be physically affected as a result of the radiation, soon after the 2011 disaster, scientists identified deformed butterflies, with larger legs and smaller wings in the no-go zone. Fukushima’s animals may be surviving, but they may also be changing.