24 Years After Chernobyl, Radioactive Boars Still Roam Germany

By Andrew Moseman | August 20, 2010 1:15 pm

wild boarA quarter-century after the catastrophe, Chernobyl can’t stay out of the news.

When fires broke out in Russia this month, people worried that the flames would spread to areas still affected by the radiation, with unknown consequences. And this week, we learned that Chernobyl-related radiation is actually on the rise somewhere else: in German boars.

Yes, that’s right, boars.

Boars are among the species most susceptible to long-term consequences of the nuclear catastrophe 24 years ago. Unlike other wild game, boars often feed on mushrooms and truffles which tend to store radioactivity and they plow through the contaminated soil with their snouts, experts say [AP].

The radioactive cesium-137 has a half-life of 30 years, and it has worked its way down into the soils of southern Germany to the depth at which it’s drawn into truffles.

Overall, the German government says, the radiation impact in that country from the 1986 Chernobyl disaster is actually on the downslope. But it so happens that the boar population is exploding, and so is the number of boars that hunters bring in with radiation counts too high for human consumption. Says Torsten Reinwald of the German Hunting Federation:

As Central Europe warms up, beech and oak trees overproduce seeds and farmers are growing more crops that the wild pigs eat…. “The number of boars in Germany has quadrupled or quintupled over the last years, as has the number of boars shot,” Reinwald said [CBS News].

That growth isn’t great for the bottom line of the German government, which pays hunters for the discarded meat when it’s too radioactive to eat, hoping the financial reward will keep people from consuming it. The country’s bill has grown more than tenfold in the last decade, up to more than $550,000 last year.

Related Content:
DISCOVER: Children of Chernobyl
DISCOVER: 20 of the Greatest Blunders in Science
80beats: Chernobyl’s Radioactive Fallout Produces Tough, Post-Nuclear Soybeans
80beats: Scientist Smackdown: Is Chernobyl Animal Dead Zone or Post-Apocalyptic Eden?

Image: Wikimedia Commons

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World
  • http://Untitledvanityproject.blogspot.com Rhacodactylus

    It’s kind of a depressing story, I mean you hear something like “Radioactive Boar,” and comic books have conditioned me to think “awesome!”

  • Cynic View

    I wonder what the rates of tumors are on the irradiated boar population. I think these animals would be a great study as analogs for humans living in radioactive wastelands.

  • Brian Too

    @1. Rhacodactylus,

    Oh I don’t know, it might not be so bad. If you’re a boar you’re already a pretty badass animal. Now a radioactive boar, well that’s something special, perhaps a superhero in the animal kingdom! No longer do you have to give props to the eagles and wolves. You’re Radioactive Boar!

    Lemonade from lemons. Lemonade from lemons.

  • Prem Das

    Twenty-four years on, the boars are thriving. There are also stubborn Russians who have remained in the so called dead zone who are still alive and well. Fruit trees like apples are bending over with the weight of their bounty.

    Where are all the dire predictions about radioactivity ? Maybe the laughs on us.

    Damn scientists.

  • Jeff

    I am wondering if anyone has taken a look at the dna of the young to see if any changes have occured due to the radiation. Have any changes occured, beneficial or otherwise. it would be interesting to see if the radiation is speeding up the natural process, or if the boars are adapting to the radiation. if the boars are reproducing faster than before there may be something changing.

  • Cora

    I feel bad for the boars, and wonder how much research is being conducted in regards to radiation effects on all levels of life in the dead zone.

  • Chris the Canadian

    Well, I wouldn’t call it a ‘dead’ zone. The boar population is exploding, the tree population is very healthy, and as the area is over run by nature (Since much of the area has been abandoned save for a few thousand hearty and stubborn Ukranians) the land will be cleansed eventually. Wouldn’t it be something if the flora and fauna of the area is able to adapt and not only survive but thrive? As for the boars emitting radioactivity, are there any health issues with the animals other than the radioactivity? Tumors? Health problems?

    I also wonder, if an animal or plant is exposed to constant but non-life threatening amounts of radiation over time, and their offspring are also brought into those conditions and grow and mate in those same conditions, do they gain a resistance to the radiation?

  • Michelle

    Chris the Canadian – you are onto something. A theory of radiation hormesis posits that low-level, chronic ionizing radiation exposure can actually turn on additional, reserve DNA damage repair mechanisms that make cells more resistant to radiation and possibly other cellular damage. Check it out, it is fascinating and intuitive.

  • Brian Too

    I wonder if the benefit of being an exclusion zone –for humans only– is outweighing the negative factor of the additional radiation?

    I mean, wouldn’t it be ironic if all the ordinary factors of human occupation, meaning things like hunting, habitat change, monoculture agricultural practices, disturbance, spraying and all the rest, were actually more detrimental than a bracing dose of radiation?

    That might explain some of the reports coming out that the Chernobyl area is experiencing a revival in animal populations.

  • tiger

    what could this story be summerized to????

  • Tim Mullins

    What is our governments hiding from us? This was supposed to be pretty much impossible. Remember all those rumors about mutations in those atomic tests?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/2010/08/20/24-years-after-chernobyl-radioactive-boars-still-roam-germany/ Joanne

    The boars referred to in this story were not in the dead zone. They are 1700 kilometers away in West Germany. They also spend all their time rooting in the radioactive soil and eating mushrooms and truffles. It would be both nice to know and nice if their were still indigenous boars in the dead zone.


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