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European bison (Bison bonasus) in the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone (Ukraine) and prospects for its revival

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  • Chornobyl Center for Nuclear Safety, Radioactive Waste and Radioecology

Abstract and Figures

In 2012–2016 a European bison adult bull was observed (by camera traps) in the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone (CEZ, Ukraine), west of Tovstyi Lis village. This is the first record of wild bison in Kyiv Polissya for over 300 years. The animal must have come from the Paliessie State Radioecological Reserve (PSRER, Belarus), having crossed the Pripyat river. The site where he was observed is 30–40 km from the locality where bison were introduced into the PSRER in 1996. The total area over which the bull has been observed is ca. 30–50 km2, and includes deciduous (oak, hornbeam, aspen) and mixed woodlands, and former grassy meadows now overgrown with birch, alder, aspen, pine. This constitutes the most favourable habitat type for bison available in the CEZ. The animal was only observed in February–March and August–October. Currently we are not able to judge how permanently the animal stays on this territory. Taking into account the amount of appropriate habitat in the region, size of the CEZ, protection regime and the fact that bison was a native species in the past, the CEZ could be the best area in Ukraine where a large free population of the European bison could be established.
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Proceedings of the Theriological School. 15 (2017): 58–66
Праці Теріологічної школи. 15 (2017): 58–66
UDC 599.735.51:504.062(477.41/.42)
EUROPEAN BISON (BISON BONASUS) IN THE CHORNOBYL EXCLUSION ZONE
(UKRAINE) AND PROSPECTS FOR ITS REVIVAL
Sergii Gashchak1, Yevgenii Gulyaichenko1, Nicholas A. Beresford2,3, Michael D. Wood3
1 Chornobyl Center for Nuclear Safety, Radioactive Waste and Radioecology,
77th Gvardiiskoi Dyvizii St. 11, Slavutych, 07101 Ukraine; e-mail: sgaschak@chornobyl.net
2 NERC Center of Ecology & Hydrology, Lancaster, United Kingdom
3 University of Salford, United Kingdom
European bison (Bison bonasus) in the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone (Ukraine) and prospects for its
revival. — Gashchak, S., Gulyaichenko, Y., Beresford, N. A., Wood, M. D. In 2012–2016 a Euro-
pean bison adult bull was observed (by camera traps) in the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone (CEZ, Ukraine), west
of Tovstyi Lis village. This is the first record of wild bison in Kyiv Polissya for over 300 years. The animal
must have come from the Paliessie State Radioecological Reserve (PSRER, Belarus), having crossed the
Pripyat river. The site where he was observed is 30–40 km from the locality where bison were introduced into
the PSRER in 1996. The total area over which the bull has been observed is ca. 30–50 km2, and includes de-
ciduous (oak, hornbeam, aspen) and mixed woodlands, and former grassy meadows now overgrown with
birch, alder, aspen, pine. This constitutes the most favourable habitat type for bison available in the CEZ. The
animal was only observed in February–March and August–October. Currently we are not able to judge how
permanently the animal stays on this territory. Taking into account the amount of appropriate habitat in the
region, size of the CEZ, protection regime and the fact that bison was a native species in the past, the CEZ
could be the best area in Ukraine where a large free population of the European bison could be established.
Ke y wo r ds : European bison, Chornobyl Exclusion Zone, camera trap, reintroduction, habitats.
Зубр (Bison bonasus) у Чорнобильській зоні відчуження (Україна) та перспективи його віднов-
лення. — Гащак, С., Гуляйченко, Є., Бересфорд, Н.А., Вуд, М. Д. — У 2012–2016 рр. за допомо-
гою фотопасток спостерігали дорослого бика зубра у Чорнобильській зоні відчуження (ЧЗВ, Україна),
західніше с. Товстий Ліс. Це перша реєстрація вільного зубра у Київському Поліссі за останні 300 ро-
ків. Тварина мала прийти з Поліського державного радіоекологічного заповідника (ПДРЕЗ, Білорусь),
перетнувши р. Прип’ять. Ділянка спостережень знаходиться у 30–40 км від місця, де зубрів інтроду-
кували у ПДРЕЗ у 1996 р. Загальна її площа складає близько 30–50 км2 і включає широколистяні (дуб,
граб, осика) і мішані ліси та колишні вологі луки, що зараз поросли березою, вільхою, осикою, сос-
ною. Це найсприятливіші для зубра угіддя у ЧЗВ. Тварину спостерігали лише у лютому–березні та
серпні–жовтні. Зараз бракує даних, щоб судити наскільки тварина постійно тримається ділянки. При-
ймаючи до уваги кількість угідь, що відповідають потребам зубра, розмір ЧЗВ, охоронний режим та
той факт, що колись це був автохтонний вид, ЧЗВ могла б стати найкращим місцем в Україні, де мож-
на було б створити велику вільну популяцію зубра.
Кл ю чо в і с л ов а : зубр, Чорнобильська зона відчуження, фотопастка, реінтродукція, оселища.
Introduction
In April 2012, during field studies assessing the environmental quality of the ‘Tovstyi Lis’ site
in the Ukrainian part of the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone (CEZ), some ‘cow pats’ (faeces) were found
in a mature deciduous forest, 3–4 km westward Tovstyi Lis village. These were definitely from some
species of the bovine family (Bovidae). However in Lubyanka village, which was in 5–6 km away,
some cows and a bull were kept by residents, and some of these animals could have roamed this far.
As far as it was known at that time, there were no wild bovines in the CEZ and hence the possibility
that the faeces were from a European bison seemed unrealistic. The nearest locality they were known
to be was 30–40 km to the north, in Belarus. In 1996, European bison were introduced into the Pali-
European bison (Bison bonasus) in the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone (Ukraine) and prospects for its revival 59
essie State Radiation and Ecological Reserve (PSRER) (Deryabina, 2008). Over 10 years their num-
ber grew, and in 2005–2011 they began to spread. However, their main territory was > 30 km from
the ‘Tovstyi Lis’ site. Importantly this territory was on the opposite bank of the Pripyat river (Dery-
abina, 2012). Only a few individuals had been observed closer to the Ukrainian border, but again,
these observations were all on the far bank of the Pripyat.
However, motion activated camera traps deployed in 2012–2016 at this site (westward Tovstyi
Lis village) captured photographs of a European bison. The aim of this paper is to summarise re-
cords of bison in the CEZ in 2012–2016 and to discuss the status of the species in this area and the
potential of the region for European bison conservation.
Methodology
From November 2014 to July 2016, Chernobyl Centre for Nuclear Safety, Radioactive Waste
and Radioecology (Ukraine) together with the University of Salford and the Centre of Ecology &
Hydrology (UK) carried out an assessment of biodiversity of macrofauna in several areas of the CEZ
using motion activated camera traps (see TREE project: http://tree.ceh.ac.uk).
The TREE project deployed 42 camera traps (Ltl Acorn 6210MC) at three sites in the CEZ,
each of 5 km radius. One site was situated near the villages Tovstyi Lis and Buda about 25 km
westward the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant. Within this site, 14 camera traps were deployed. Co-
ordinates were calculated using a random number algorithm, the actual position used for each cam-
era was the most appropriate place within 200–300 m of the random coordinate. Selection criteria for
locating the camera included the presence of animal trails. Preference was given to the sites where
the movement of animals was channelled by natural barriers (water, thickets etc.). The camera traps
were run in one location for 7–8 weeks, then they were moved to new points within the overall study
site. The cameras were moved six times (i.e. the cameras were each run at seven different locations).
The main study ran from November 2014 to January 2016. Subsequently, until July 2016, four cam-
era traps continued to be deployed, each camera being set-up at three additional locations. In total
cameras were located at 97 locations in the study area, and the total duration of deployment was
6485 days. A more detailed description of the methodology used for the camera trap study can be
found in article by S. Gashchak et al. (2016).
A further set of motion activated cameras have been in use at this site since May 2012. This was
for a national project which was trying to identify areas of the CEZ of ‘valuable environmental sta-
tus (Gashchak, Domashevsky, 2013; Petrov, Gashchak, 2013). A range of camera models (Ltl
Acorn 5210A, Ltl Acorn 6210M, Bushnell 119437c, DLC Covert Red 40, Weltar 8210A and Brow-
ning Strike Force) were used. The number of camera traps deployed varied from 3 to 7, and the dura-
tion of deployment at a given location was from two weeks to more than a year. The cameras were
used at 35 points for a total duration of 3796 days. Between January to November 2016 the cameras
were sited at points where it was considered most likely to observe European bison based on known
habitat preference (Korochkina, 1969 a; Baskin, 1979; Kozlo et al., 1999; Deryabina, 2012).
At every point, during the setting up of the camera trap, a preliminary shooting of the site was
taken (the study camera) with measurement poles in place. This was in order to be able to estimate
animal size once photographs were obtained. Twenty 1-meter poles were placed in three paralleled
rows, with 1 meter gaps, the first pole was located 3 m from the camera and the last at 8 m. The
poles had markings at every 20 cm. Images of measurement poles and animals were overlaid using
Adobe Photoshop to allow animal dimensions to be estimated (accuracy of estimation ca. 5 cm).
Results
Since April 2012 European bison were recorded at the Tovstyi Lis/Buda site 25 times: ‘cow
pats’ were found on five occasions at different locations; photographic records were obtained on
19 occasions from 7 points; and a there was a confirmed oral report of a sighting at an additional
point (tab. 1). All the observations were made in the same area: to the west and south of Tovstyi Lis
village, inside woodland or close to its edge (fig. 1).
Sergii Gashchak, Yevgenii Gulyaichenko, Nicholas A. Beresford, Michael D. Wood
60
Table 1. Recorded cases of European bison or evidence of its presence in the CEZ in 2012–2016
Таблиця 1. Перелік випадків реєстрації зубра або ознак його присутності у ЧЗВ у 2012–2016 роках
No* Point
Coordi-
nates
(WGS84)
Date (time) Record Duration
(min:sec)
Light
period
Direction of
movement Note
1 1 N51.3796,
E29.7358
07.04.2012 Cow pat
2 2 N51.3815,
E29.7286
18.04.2012 Cow pat
3 3 N51.3783,
E29.7308
18.04.2012 Cow pat
4 4 N51.3711,
E29.7398
18.04.2012 Cow pat
5 5 N51.3806,
E29.7320
19.03.2015
15:44
Photograph 17:24 daylight NE Scratching on post
6 6 N51.3580,
E29.8051
24.06.2015
11:27
Cow pat
7 7 N51.3829,
E29.7413
02.08.2015
20:58
Photograph 00:04 dusk NE Moving passed the
camera
8 7 N51.3829,
E29.7413
02.08.2015
21:45
Photograph 00:10 dark SW Grazing
9 8 N51.3565,
E29.7665
03.11.2015 Oral re-
port**
daylight Scared by people and
ran-off
10 5 N51.3806,
E29.7320
07.02.2016
17:41
Photograph 00:24 dark NE Moving passed the
camera
11 9 N51.3806,
E29.7331
07.02.2016
17:44
Photograph 00:19 daylight SE Moving passed the
camera
12 9 N51.3806,
E29.7331
17.02.2016
15:41
Photograph 00:11 daylight SE Moving passed the
camera
13 5 N51.3806,
E29.7320
01.03.2016
23:57
Photograph 00:56 dark NE Moving passed the
camera
14 10 N51.3869,
E29.7128
02.03.2016
16:07
Photograph 00:06 daylight NW Moving passed the
camera
15 11 N51.3663,
E29.7300
09.08.2016
23:21
Photograph 00:03 dark Moving passed the
camera
16 5 N51.3806,
E29.7320
15.08.2016
19:41
Photograph 01:21 daylight SW Scratching on post
17 5 N51.3806,
E29.7320
24.08.2016
17:58
Photograph 06:22 daylight NE Scratching on post
18 12 N51.3576,
E29.7984
31.08.2016
7:33
Photograph 05:28 daylight W Grazing
19 5 N51.3806,
E29.7320
09.09.2016
16:38
Photograph 03:40 daylight SW Scratching on post
20 12 N51.3576,
E29.7984
11.09.2016
18:35
Photograph 00:41 daylight E Moving passed the
camera
21 13 N51.3615,
E29.7896
13.09.2016
21:17
Photograph 00:19 dark N Moving passed the
camera
22 5 N51.3806,
E29.7320
17.09.2016
20:54
Photograph 01:37 dark NE Scratching on post
23 12 N51.3576,
E29.7984
19.09.2016
20:32
Photograph 01:42 dark W Grazing
24 10 N51.3869,
E29.7128
01.10.2016
11:45
Photograph 00:09 daylight NW Moving passed the
camera
25 10 N51.3869,
E29.7128
20.10.2016
15:58
Photograph 00:02 daylight NW Moving passed the
camera
* Identifies location on Fig. 1. ** confirmed report of Artur Kalmykov (photograph taken)
European bison (Bison bonasus) in the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone (Ukraine) and prospects for its revival 61
Fig. 1. Location of points where evidence of European bison was recorded in the CEZ in 2012–2016; forest type is
also shown (on: Development project, 2006). Numbering of the points corresponds to that in table 1.
Рис. 1. Розташування місць, де зубра реєстрували у ЧЗВ у 2012–2016 рр., відносно лісорослинних умов (за:
Проект..., 2006). Цифри біля точок відповідають номерам точок у табл. 1.
Almost all pictures were taken during the period 11:30 to 24:00, only one photograph was taken
earlier in the morning. Mostly the animal was passing the camera and sometimes grazing grasses. At
point No. 5 the bison came several times to scratch on a bridge side post, where he stayed for up to
17 min (fig. 2 and 3). Although the camera traps were deployed at the site for a long period, and the
bison appeared in the same points several times, he was observed only during February–March and
August–October. There were no data for other months.
It is not possible to comment on the animals’ movement routes. However, between August and
October 2016 the animal walked over the site at least three times from the north-west (point No. 5)
to south-east (No. 12) and back, covering at least 5.3 km (straight line distance) over 2–10 days
(5.5 d on average). Based on the photographs, there appears to be only one individual that has been
observed to date. This is an adult bull; height at shoulder approximately 135–140 cm and about 120–
125 cm on the rump. The animal looks in good condition (fig. 2 and 3).
Discussion
Past history of European bison in Kyiv Polissya
In the past European bison were common inhabitants of most regions of modern Ukraine (Kiri-
kov, 1979 a) though it is not clear if it was present in the territory of the modern CEZ. Written evi-
dence and fossils records suggest that the bison was abundant in different regions of Polissya (Kiri-
kov, 1979 a). However, almost all written/fossil records originate from the forest-steppe zone (which
is to the south of the CEZ) or in forest zone (as is the CEZ) but in north-west of Ukraine and in Bela-
rus. Kirikov cited results from Volovich (in: Kirikov, 1979 b): in the 16th century, European bison
undertook mass passages from forest-steppe areas near the Dnipro river to ‘pripyat puscha’ (dense
Sergii Gashchak, Yevgenii Gulyaichenko, Nicholas A. Beresford, Michael D. Wood
62
virgin forest). Regardless of their past distribution, bison had disappeared completely from most
regions of Ukraine by the 18th century due to deforestation of lands and eradication by humans (Ki-
rikov, 1979 a).
In the mid-1990’s there was an attempt to return European bison back to the Kyiv Polissya. At
that time, the programme of species conservation was failing because of a lack of available habitat
where there would be no conflicts with man (Kryzhanovsky, 2007). Small isolated sub-populations
still existed in Ukraine but these served to rescue the species from local extinction rather than being
home to free populations, bison require large territories with the ability for contact between sub-
populations. Social and economic crises contributed to a further reduction of the bison population in
the Ukraine (Gerus, Kryzhanovsky, 2005; Kryzhanovsky, 2007; Parnikoza et al., 2010; Red Book of
Ukraine, 2009). Consequently, the appearance of a large ‘protected’ territory in the north of Kyiv
oblast, where there was no human population, opened up new prospects (Kryzhanovsky, 2007).
In 1998 two animals (a male and a female) were transported from the Askania Nova reserve
(south Ukraine) and placed in an enclosure near Chornobyl town together with Przewalski horses
(Program ‘Fauna’, 1998). Unfortunately, the female died within the first months as the result of an
injury and the bull died of unknown reasons after 2.5 years.
Therefore, the first free bison (as reported here) must have come to Kyiv Polissya from Belarus,
without the help of people. Favourable development of the situation in the PSRER fostered this.
Fig. 2. The bison photographed in the
CEZ.
Рис. 2. Зубр сфотографований у ЧЗВ.
Fig. 3. The bison scratching on a
bridge-side concrete post.
Рис. 3. Зубр чешеться об бетонний
стовпчик огорожі моста.
European bison (Bison bonasus) in the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone (Ukraine) and prospects for its revival 63
Reintroduction of European bison in neighbour territory of Belarus
Sixteen animals (4 bulls and 12 females) were transported from Bialoweza Puscha National
Park (Belarus) in 1996, and placed into an enclosure near the village of Babchin in the PSRER (Der-
yabina, 2008). One and a half years later they were released into the wild. Over 10 years their herd
increased up to 116 animals in 2016 (Penkevich, 2016). Since 2005 the bison have begun to explore
new territories, mostly in the north. A few individuals moved to southern areas of the PSRER but
only on the left (east) bank of the Pripyat river (Deryabina, 2012). Growth of the herd and the num-
ber of mature bulls were main reasons for dispersion (Deryabina, 2012). It would appear that at least
one bull swam across the Pripyat river and reached the Ukrainian part of the CEZ, with faeces being
found in 2012. The width of the Pripyat river in this area is 100–200 meters, and the depth approxi-
mately 3–4 meters (State water cadastre, 1967). Such ‘swim passages’ of bison were well-known in
the past and the site of river crossings used to be places for hunting (Kirikov, 1979 a). According to
long-term studies in ‘Bialoweza Puscha’ (Korochkina, 1973) ‘distant roaming’ takes place periodi-
cally, and is provoked both by expulsion of males (competitors) from the herd and by the search for
new territories when food is scarce.
The observed facts referring to ecology of European bison
Usually European bison have relatively small territories of 450–900 ha (Korochkina, 1973). A
similar range was observed for ‘our’ bison, the area of forest and meadow habitats on which he
roamed in August–October 2016 was approximately 500–700 ha.
Baskin (1979) reports that European bison that travelled far could come back to the same loca-
tions. However, the annual behaviour of the animal observed in the CEZ is difficult to comment on.
Whilst, in the periods November to January and April to July there were no observations, it is in
these seasons that bison are the most sedentary (Korochkina, 1973; Baskin, 1979). Distance and
activity of movement increases at the end of winter beginning of spring, in the period of poor
food availability and again in the mating period (August–September). It is possible that the observed
bison periodically returns to the Belarussian territory. However, it is also possible that during the
periods of his ‘absence’ he is somewhere close by and that the most appropriate habitats with better
food availability had no camera traps. Studies would be needed to clarify this.
The fact that observations of bison have been made in the same area for four years suggests that
the site is not an occasional visiting place. The CEZ is a large area (2600 km2) but the animal came
over tens of kilometres and appears to have settled at this particular site.
The site is between a large forests, spreading hundreds of kilometres to the west, and former ag-
ricultural landscapes that are now overgrown with trees and bushes. This site has a relatively high
amount of deciduous and mixed forests on hygrophilous soils with rich mineral supply (Petrov,
Gashchak, 2013). Near to 20–25 % of the forest is 80 to 150 years old or older, which is unusual for
the CEZ where most trees are younger. Approximately 13 % of the total area over which bison activ-
ity has been observed are oak forest (Quercus robur L.), and up to 9 % aspen forest (Populus tremu-
la L.); this area has a higher proportion of these habitats than much of the rest of the CEZ. Horn-
beam (Carpinus betulus L.) is common in the understory layer of the area favoured by the bison and
in some places it forms pure stands. There is a lot of ash (Fraxinus excelsior L.), maple (Acer sp.),
rowan (Sorbus aucuparia L.) and spindle (Euonymus sp.). These species are reported as the most
preferred among tree and bushes in the diet of bison, and are typical of the species’ main habitats in
Europe (Korochkina, 1969 a; Baskin, 1979; Kozlo et al., 1999). The pine and mixed forests which
are more abundant than deciduous in the study area grow in hygrophilic (moist) conditions and have
a rich layer of grasses and herbs which are consumed by bison (Korochkina, 1969 b; Baskin, 1979;
Kozlo et al., 1999). Up to 35 % of the study site is areas of natural reforestation of former mead-
ows/agricultural land where 10–30 years old birch trees now predominate with abundant grasses.
The conditions at the study site are not uncommon in the CEZ, however there are not many
places where these habitats occupy such a large area (30–50 km2). If we had wanted to re-introduce
European bison into the CEZ, it would be difficult to find a more suitable area.
Sergii Gashchak, Yevgenii Gulyaichenko, Nicholas A. Beresford, Michael D. Wood
64
Prospects of European bison revival in the CEZ
As a whole the CEZ has many localities of similar quality and habitat composition (fig. 4). The
largest among them are forests with high component of oak in the south-east near the villages of
Paryshev and Ladyzhychi. Suitable habitat also includes areas on the north of the Pripyat river’s left-
bank, between the villages of Usiv, Mashevo and Gorodchan. It is possible that bison have been
there or are in these areas but that no observations have been made. These sites are closest to the
Belarussian reserve and those localities where bison were observed (in Belarus) in 2005–2011 (Der-
yabina, 2012).
Bison prefer habitats with meadows and overgrown logging areas, avoiding residing in vast to-
tal woodland (Korochkina, 1973; Baskin, 1979). Much of the most appropriate habitat for bison in
the CEZ is surrounded by dense woodlands (fig. 4), this is likely to make these areas less attractive
to the bison though we speculate that they may be temporarily used during migrations or in winter.
Given its size, natural conditions and protection regime, the CEZ is a good prospective location
for establishing a free (natural) population of bison (as opposed to the bison elsewhere in the
Ukraine which are restricted to small areas). This is especially the case given that with the neigh-
bouring PSRER (Belarus) the total area with very little human activity is up to 4760 km2. In the
opinion of Kryzhanovsky (2007), the CEZ has the potential to be the largest Ukrainian reserve for
bison, with a total herd of up to 500.
But currently a developing population exists only on Byelorussian territory. In theory, bison
coming from Belarus to Ukraine could create a new herd (as was observed for Przewalski horses
migrating to the PSRER from the CEZ (Deryabina, 2013)), but this is a future prospect taking into
account territorial behaviour of maternal herds (rather sedentary) and the relatively low birth rate
(Baskin, 1979). There is no governmental programme to support the reintroduction of bison in the
CEZ (Parnikoza et al., 2010). There is also no organisation which could oversee the protection of
bison in the CEZ. The recent decision to establish the ‘Chornobyl radiation and ecological biosphere
reserve’ in the Ukraine (Decree of the President, 2016) should be positive for wildlife. However,
only time will show if it will be helpful in returning the bison to ‘Pripyat Puscha’.
Fig. 4. Areas of CEZ corresponded to the needs of European bison on habitat conditions.
Рис. 4. Ділянки ЧЗВ, що найбільш відповідають потребам зубра за природними умовами.
European bison (Bison bonasus) in the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone (Ukraine) and prospects for its revival 65
Acknowledgements
The research described in this paper was carried out with the support of the Ministry of Ecology
and Natural Resources of Ukraine (the project named “Research and identification of the exclusion
zone areas with the most valuable natural systems and worthy of the highest conservation status, and
their passporting”) and under the TREE project (http://tree.ceh.ac.uk/) funded by the United King-
dom Natural Environment Research Council, Radioactive Waste Management Limited and the Envi-
ronment Agency. The writing up of this study was funded by the EURATOM COMET project
(http://www.radioecology-exchange.org/). The authors are grateful to Sergii Paskevich for the assis-
tance during field work and discussion of the observations; consultations with Vladimir Penkevich
and Valeri Dombrovsky (PSRER, Belarus) were also valuable. The authors appreciate Artur Kal-
mykov providing the confirmed report of bison.
References • Література
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... Several studies in the Chernobyl area have estimated the abundance and interspecific diversity of wildlife after the accident (Bezrukov et al., 2015;Chapon et al., 2012;Deryabina et al., 2015;Lecomte-Pradines et al., 2014;Gashchak et al., 2017;Gashchak et al., 2016;Møller & Mousseau, 2009Morelli et al., 2018;Murphy et al., 2011;Schlichting et al., 2019;Shkvyria & Vishnevskiy, 2012;Zaitsev et al., 2014). However, these studies have provided inconclusive, and often divergent results, dependent on the sampling design (e.g., for mammals; Deryabina et al., 2015;Webster et al., 2016). ...
... Several studies have shown that in the CEZ, where all human residents have been evacuated, large mammals in particular are reappearing, doubtless due to a decrease in human disturbance to wildlife (Deryabina et al., 2015;Gashchak et al., 2016Gashchak et al., , 2017Shkvyria & Vishnevskiy, 2012 ...
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Despite the ubiquity of pollutants in the environment, their long‐term ecological consequences are not always clear and still poorly studied. This is the case concerning the radioactive contamination of the environment following the major nuclear accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Notwithstanding the implications of evolutionary processes on the population status, few studies concern the evolution of organisms chronically exposed to ionizing radiation in the Chernobyl exclusion zone. Here, we examined genetic markers for 19 populations of Eastern tree frog (Hyla orientalis) sampled in the Chernobyl region about thirty years after the nuclear power plant accident to investigate microevolutionary processes ongoing in local populations. Genetic diversity estimated from nuclear and mitochondrial markers showed an absence of genetic erosion and higher mitochondrial diversity in tree frogs from the Chernobyl exclusion zone compared to other European populations. Moreover, the study of haplotype network permitted us to decipher the presence of an independent recent evolutionary history of Chernobyl exclusion zone’s Eastern tree frogs caused by an elevated mutation rate compared to other European populations. By fitting to our data a model of haplotype network evolution, we suspected that Eastern tree frog populations in the Chernobyl exclusion zone have a high mitochondrial mutation rate and small effective population sizes. These data suggest that Eastern tree frog populations might offset the impact of deleterious mutations because of their large clutch size, but also question the long term impact of ionizing radiation on the status of other species living in the Chernobyl exclusion zone.
... На сьогоднішній день фотопастки активно використовують для досліджень ссавців на багатьох заповідних територіях [Sarmento et al. 2009;Rozhnov & Sidorchuk 2016;Rich et al. 2017;Fiderer et al. 2019;Ferreiro-Arias et al. 2021], у тому числі і в Україні [Gashchak et al. 2017;Koval 2017]. Поширення практики використання фотопаcток на заповідних територіях України сприятиме проведенню моніторингових досліджень тварин на сучасному рівні. ...
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Observations near the burrows gives rich material on the biology, intraspecific and interspecific interactions, and individual behaviour of animals. In our work, we considered four methods of observation (visual observations, visual observations with photo-fixation, video surveillance, and camera trapping) of burrowing carnivorans near their underground shelters. The research was conducted in spring and summer in different years in the period from 2004 to 2021 in open and forest habitats near burrows of badgers (Meles meles Linnaeus, 1758) and foxes (Vulpes vulpes Linnaeus, 1758).Visual observations are always associated with the presence of humans near the underground shelter of burrowing carnivorans for a long period of time. The researcher can be present only at one burrow at a time. The advantages of this method are that it is simple, cheap and allows for observing not only the burrow, but also the surrounding area. Complementing the data of visual observations with photographs largely increases their scientific value and informativeness. The use of camera traps minimizes human impact on animal behaviour, covers more underground shelters (depending on the number of devices) and collects more concentrated material than other methods. Camera trapping and video surveillance is also more convenient for the researcher, especially during the round-the-clock collection of data. This method however requires significant material costs and time to review and sort materials before data analysis. Data collection is limited to the working area of devices that do not always have time to capture animals when they pass very quickly. It is important under different environmental conditions to choose the optimal method of observation in order to study the animals effectively. In open biotopes during the organization of observations, there are difficulties with the installation of photo- and video equipment and its camouflage. In our opinion, the method of visual observations with photo-fixation remains relevant in conducting research near underground shelters of burrowing carnivorans under such conditions. The method of camera trapping is optimal for forest biotopes.
... However, more than three decades have passed since the accident, and radiation levels in the area have decreased several orders of magnitude [17]. Recent studies have reported the increase of mammal densities [18] and the arrival to the Chernobyl area of species not present at the time of the accident (brown bear [19], European bison [20]). Other studies have even suggested that chronic exposure to radiation may have favored adaptive responses to cope with current radiation levels (e.g. ...
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Background Human actions have altered natural ecosystems worldwide. Among the many pollutants released to the environment, ionizing radiation can cause severe damage at different molecular and functional levels. The accident in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant (1986) caused the largest release of ionizing radiation to the environment in human history. Here, we examined the impact of the current exposure to ionizing radiation on blood physiology biomarkers of adult males of the Eastern tree frog ( Hyla orientalis ) inhabiting within and outside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. We measured the levels of eight blood parameters (sodium, potassium, chloride, ionized calcium, total carbon dioxide, glucose, urea nitrogen, and anion gap), physiological markers of homeostasis, as well as of liver and kidney function. Results Levels of blood physiology biomarkers did not vary in function of the current exposure of tree frogs to ionizing radiation within the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Physiological blood levels were similar in frogs inhabiting Chernobyl (both in areas with medium-high or low radiation) than in tree frogs living outside Chernobyl exposed only to background radiation levels. Conclusions The observed lack of effects of current radiation levels on blood biomarkers can be a consequence of the low levels of radiation currently experienced by Chernobyl tree frogs, but also to the fact that our sampling was restricted to active breeding males, i.e. potentially healthy adult individuals. Despite the clear absence of effects of current radiation levels on physiological blood parameters in tree frogs, more research covering different life stages and ecological scenarios is still needed to clarify the impact of ionizing radiation on the physiology, ecology, and dynamics of wildlife inhabiting radioactive-contaminated areas.
... The exception was the introduction of Bison bonasus (European bison) in the PSRER and Equus ferus przewalskii (Przewalski's horse) in the Ukrainian CEZ. Both of these introduced species have spread across large areas of the CEZ and are breeding (Gashchak & Paskevich, 2019;Gashchak et al., 2017). Perino et al. (2019) suggested that the CEZ is the only area in Europe where a diverse range of species interact in sizable numbers in a large wilderness complex and can thus be considered one of the most iconic natural experiments on rewilding in recent history. ...
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Following the 1986 Chornobyl accident an area of approaching 5000 km2 surrounding the nuclear plant was abandoned, creating the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone (CEZ). Whilst this area likely contains the most radioactive terrestrial ecosystem on earth, over the nearly 35 years since the accident the absence of humans and associated activities has resulted in increases in wildlife numbers. Both the Belarussian and Ukrainian components of the CEZ are now designated as nature reserves; together they form one of Europe's largest protected areas and have been described as an iconic example of rewilding. Forests and former agricultural land (now scrub) dominate the CEZ and wildfires are an annual event. In April 2020, the CEZ suffered its most widespread fires to date when >800 km2 of the 2600 km2 Ukrainian portion of the CEZ was burnt. Largescale fires in the CEZ have implications for wildlife, as they do elsewhere, but they also pose additional radioecological and radiological protection questions. We discuss the implications of wildfires in the CEZ, considering effects on wildlife and changes in radionuclide mobility. We also demonstrate that the risk to firefighters and the wider public from the inhalation of radionuclides in smoke resulting from fires in the CEZ is likely to be low. However, further experimental and modelling work to evaluate potential doses to firefighters from inhaled radioactive particles would be valuable, not least for reassurance purposes. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
... Deryabina et al., 2015; Gashchak et al., 2000Gashchak et al., , 2013Gashchak et al., , 2016Gashchak et al., , 2017Shkvyria & Vishnevsky, 2012;Shkvyria et al., 2018). In particular, there were virtually no surveys focused on semi-aquatic mammals e.g. ...
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In 2018 the first survey of the Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra) within the Chornobyl exclusion zone was carried out using so-called "standard methods" (searches for spraints and other signs of otter presence). The Chornobyl exclusion zone is a 2600 km 2 territory in Kyiv region, Northern Ukraine, where since the Chornobyl nuclear disaster in 1986 the human impact on natural ecosystems has been dramatically reduced. Forest landscapes dominate the zone and the area is well drained by rivers of various sizes and drainage canals. The Eurasian otter has been known to inhabit rivers here long before the disaster and was consistently recorded thereafter but no species-focused survey was attempted. We undertook such a survey covering all major otter habitats e.g. rivers, lakes and drainage canals. The survey was done by inspecting both banks at predetermined sites. The proportion of positive sites was taken as a measure of habitat use. Signs of otter presence were found everywhere within the habitats studied. Otters used large (94% of 18 sites inspected) and medium-sized (81% of 27) rivers more than smaller ones (75% of 16) and more than flood-plain lakes (60% of 5). The least favourable habitats were drainage canals (44% of 52). The habitat distribution of otters in the Chornobyl exclusion zone corresponds well to the data for adjacent territories in Belarus and Ukraine obtained by tracking surveys in winter. This helps to produce a rough estimate of the number of Eurasian otters within the Chornobyl exclusion zone (72-153 individuals).
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Camera traps (CT) were used in 2018 to assess the current state of the Przewalski’s horse (PH) population. Przewalski’s horses were introduced into the Ukrainian Chornobyl exclusion zone (CEZ) in 1998. Up to 720 km2 (of the 2600 km2 total CEZ area) were investigated between February and November 2018, however the assessment reported here was made between May–July when PH are more settled with regards to the territory used. Totally 137 PH were recorded in the Ukrainian part of the CEZ: 47 stallions, 66 mares (adult & fillies) and 24 foals (10 males, 4 females and 10 of unidentified gender). At least four more PH (stallion, 2 mares, 1 foal) are noted at a remote site in the Belarus CEZ (V. Dombrovsky, or. rep.). All foals were born April-July 2018. There were 13 harem herds with foals (3–16 individuals in total in each), four small non-breeding groups (2-3 individuals), ca. 6 stallion groups (2–6 individuals), and at least one solitary stallion. Harem and non-breeding herds generally kept to ca. 18 sites, stallion groups normally roamed. Two-three groups lived on territories which including both Ukrainian and Belorussian parts of the CEZ. During 2007–2010 PH crossed the river Prypiat and finally founded a local reproducing sub-population. Almost all PH are from the 2nd and higher generations, only two mares had a brand mark which identified the original introduced population. One herd (Ilintsy) includes a domesticate breed mare (in autumn she moved to a neighbouring group, in Stechanka, where in 2019 gave birth to a hybrid foal sired by the Ilintsy stallion). At least, two males (solitary stallion and colt) had signs of hybridization (i.e. PH and domesticated horse). Underestimation of the total PH population in our study is likely as not all appropriate sites were investigated. The total herd, as identified here, of PH grew seven-fold between 1998 and 2018. However, the rate of population increase between 2009–2018 was in 1.5 times less than that 1998–2008 previously reported. This reduced population growth rate was likely due to the changing age structure of the herd, the initial herd contained only older (more productive) mature mares, over time numbers of younger (less productive) mares increased. The present demographic indices and reproductive potential do not indicate any negative tendencies in the population development, and evidence the further fitness to the local conditions. PH are native to open steppe landscapes and our study confirms their preference to meadows in the CEZ. However, we observed that PH do not avoid forests. Reforestation of meadows and predominance of woodlands in the CEZ are obstacles for comprehensive monitoring of PH, and may contribute to an underestimation of the population size as direct visual observations do not work well in the woodlands. CT studies offer a solution to this problem.
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1.Assessing the presence and abundance of birds is important for monitoring specific species as well as overall ecosystem health. Many birds are most readily detected by their sounds, and thus passive acoustic monitoring is highly appropriate. Yet acoustic monitoring is often held back by practical limitations such as the need for manual configuration, reliance on example sound libraries, low accuracy, low robustness, and limited ability to generalise to novel acoustic conditions. 2. Here we report outcomes from a collaborative data challenge. We present new acoustic monitoring datasets, summarise the machine learning techniques proposed by challenge teams, conduct detailed performance evaluation, and discuss how such approaches to detection can be integrated into remote monitoring projects. 3. Multiple methods were able to attain performance of around 88% AUC (area under the ROC curve), much higher performance than previous general‐purpose methods. 4. With modern machine learning including deep learning, general‐purpose acoustic bird detection can achieve very high retrieval rates in remote monitoring data ̶ with no manual recalibration, and no pre‐training of the detector for the target species or the acoustic conditions in the target environment. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
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Assessing the presence and abundance of birds is important for monitoring specific species as well as overall ecosystem health. Many birds are most readily detected by their sounds, and thus passive acoustic monitoring is highly appropriate. Yet acoustic monitoring is often held back by practical limitations such as the need for manual configuration, reliance on example sound libraries, low accuracy, low robustness, and limited ability to generalise to novel acoustic conditions. Here we report outcomes from a collaborative data challenge showing that with modern machine learning including deep learning, general-purpose acoustic bird detection can achieve very high retrieval rates in remote monitoring data --- with no manual recalibration, and no pre-training of the detector for the target species or the acoustic conditions in the target environment. Multiple methods were able to attain performance of around 88% AUC (area under the ROC curve), much higher performance than previous general-purpose methods. We present new acoustic monitoring datasets, summarise the machine learning techniques proposed by challenge teams, conduct detailed performance evaluation, and discuss how such approaches to detection can be integrated into remote monitoring projects.
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In the article, in the context of historical past and on the basis of comprehensive collection of information, reasons of sudden reduction of quantity of Ukrainian populations of European bison (Bison bonasus L.) are examined. The modern state of Ukrainian population and bison husbandry in zoos of country is pointed. An attempt to outline the list of measures, which are needed for the rescue of this mammal species in wild fauna of Ukraine, is done.
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A study in 2012–2016 using camera traps confirmed the presence of brown bear in the Chornobyl exclusion zone (Ukraine). The presence of ca. 2–3 individuals was established in an area of up to 80 km2 near the village of Tovstyi Lis. Bears were observed on 17 occasions in all seasons except winter. Confirmed sightings were also recorded near the villages of Paryshiv and Ladyzhychi, though number of the animals in this area is unknown. Both locations include vast broadleaved woodlands with moist soil and abundant food reserves. The evidence collected (photographs, video, footprints, markings on trees, oral reports of a female bear with cubs) suggest the development of a resident breeding group and the revival of the species in Kyiv Polissia after centuries of its absence. This is facilitated by the size of the exclusion zone (2,600 km2), abundant resources and the absence of humans. A similar revival of bear has been reported in the neighbouring Poliskyi Radioecological Reserve in Belarus. Together both territories (4,750 km2) promise to be a new large reservation for brown bear in Eastern Europe.
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The reasons for sudden decline of the Ukrainian population of the European bison (Bison bonasus L.) were analyzed on the basis of historical data and current information. Described are the present status of E. bison population in Ukraine and breeding activities in zoos. Proposed are measures necessary to restore the population of this species in the country.
Morphology, systematics, evolution, ecology
  • L Baskin
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