Rare wild horses have made their home in the abandoned Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (CEZ), researchers have found.
Experts at the University of Georgia captured footage of the rare Przewalski’s horses in buildings deserted following the 1986 nuclear power plant accident.
Motion-activated camera captured more than 11,000 photographs of the stocky endangered horses sheltering in empty barns in Belarus over a year.
A total of 36 Przewalski’s horses were brought to the border of Belarus and Ukraine 15 years ago to increase biodiversity in the fall-out area.
Within four years, the population almost doubled – and now scientists have discovered the horses are taking advantage of the abandoned buildings in the CEZ.
The horses were recorded 35 times at nine of the ten monitored structures during winter, and 149 times at all eight monitored structures over the summer.
They found the horses, native to the steppes of Central Asia, use the structures to breed, shelter, and sleep and also take refuge from insects during summer months.
Led by Peter Schlichting, the research team also detected brown hares, red deer, moose, wild boars, red foxes, raccoon dogs, Eurasian lynx and wolves, and bat species.
He said: “Video footage could be a useful tool to track individuals during visits and be used in conjunction with cameras to fill in those gaps.”
James Beasley, a senior author on the research team’s report, said pinpointing the horses’ frequent use of the structures was vital.
He added: “Our results indicate Przewalski’s horses routinely use abandoned structures in the CEZ.
“As a result, these structures can serve as important focal points for research and management to obtain key demographic information such as age, sex ratio, population size and genetic structure.”
Przewalski’s horses, named after the Russian geographer Nikołaj Przewalski who found them in Mongolia, might be the last remaining subspecies of truly wild horse.
Schlichting said the numbers are likely too low to sustain a population, and added: “When the size of a population is reduced, it has lost a lot of natural variation.”
The University of Georgia’s research team now hopes to conduct future research in the Ukraine section of the zone, where the population was initially introduced.
Future studies could gather information on population numbers.
The research team hope the research will help them learn more about the behavioural patterns of Przewalski’s horses so they can save them.