Chernobyl: tracks of a rabid wolf
Chernobyl: tracks of a rabid wolf

The situation that arose at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 2009, when six employees of the station were injured due to a rabid wolf attack, is a clear illustration of the mass of problems in ensuring the epidemiological well-being in the Exclusion Zone.

This fact should not be regarded only as an accidental combination of circumstances; rather, it is a demonstration of the fact that unresolved issues that have long been on the surface and began to start dysfunctional shoots.

Then, in the late fall of 2009, it was necessary not only to deal with who was to blame, but also to immediately think what should be urgently taken, how quickly and most importantly to effectively secure the Chernobyl personnel and all workers of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone from uninvited guests – rabid wolves?

Alas, a definite answer to the questions posed most likely does not exist. Problems with rabid animals, as well as rabies prophylaxis issues, really cause extreme concern against the background of a low assessment of the general epidemiological state in the Exclusion Zone. This is especially true when it comes to wildlife populations.

A lot of time has passed since the collapse of the USSR, when this issue was under tight control, but so far it has not been possible to establish this amount of effective preventive work. Some complain about the constant reorganization of the sanitary and epidemiological services, others find the reasons for the elementary lack of adequate funding, and still others just simply evade responsibility.

Stray dogs and cats, and other animals infected with rabies does not become smaller. Rather, vice versa, according to the State Research Institute of Laboratory Diagnostics and Veterinary and Sanitary Expertise, each year they become an order of magnitude larger. We still do not have an adequate regulatory framework that would regulate the maintenance of dogs and the responsibility of owners in case of a bite by dogs people who are not vaccinated.

Rather, there are some regulatory norms on paper, but in practice their application is extremely inefficient. And this is not to mention stray dogs and cats. It becomes clear against the background of such irresponsibility why the problem with rabies in principle arose, and the roots of a special case that happened back in 2009, when the Chernobyl employees had to learn a bite the wolf, a terrible wild animal, “the hard way” – become quite obvious.

Rabies spread

A wolf is not a particularly affectionate creation of nature in its normal state, but infected with a rabies virus, it is considered one of the most dangerous animals — strong, fast, and hardy. When bitten, it inflicts deep, lacerated wounds in the head, neck and shoulders, becoming on the hind legs, thereby significantly restricting any protective movements of a person.

A rabid wolf is able to bite a person, so it’s not difficult to guess what the Chernobyl employees experienced when this predator appeared in their way. Probably, they tried to get rid of him, calmly and without hysteria, but the wild beast still managed to inflict serious injuries on the six employees of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. The further rehabilitation process for the victims took an extremely long and rather painful period.

It is surprising, but experts say that about 80% of human cases of rabies from wild animals come from contact not with the wolf, but with the fox. It is this cunning animal – the first carrier of rabies among animals, and only then wild dogs, badgers, bats come, and wolves close the list. It is not difficult to assume that the hope of efficiency from their shooting in order to achieve positive results in statistics on the fight against rabies is utopia.

The Chernobyl personnel will not only not secure this, but rather the other way around, will aggravate the problem of the presence of rabid animals in the Exclusion Zone. The threat of an attack by wild animals infected with rabies virus against humans remains even in the case of the shooting of wolves – this is proved in practice, because the case at the Chernobyl NPP was recorded precisely during the shooting of these predators. What is the point of making the same mistake twice if the effectiveness and outcome of such an event are six people infected with rabies. 

Practice has shown that forcibly exterminating a wolf means further worsening the epidemiological situation to combat rabies in the Exclusion Zone. The bottom line is that the wolf is a natural competitor of the fox, and its presence, even from a purely biological point of view, has always suppressed the natural population of the fox – the main rage distributor. Shooting a wolf leads to an even larger population of foxes, and hence to an increase in cases of rabies infection in wild animals and new outbreaks of this terrible disease on the territory of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

There are other negative consequences of the shooting of Chernobyl wolves. These animals have a rather unique feature – a passive defensive reaction to the presence of humans. The wolf is a malicious predator, however, it has a powerful protective instinct – the inborn fear of man. Competent zoologists believe that the structure of a wolf family collapses when a wolf is shot.

This leads to the fact that the young of the pack, losing their leader, become paralyzed, which leads the pack to disorientation in space. In this case, spontaneous schools with a disturbed behavioral structure begin to form. They are not capable of determining a clear territorial affection, and, as a consequence of this, they have a low, unproductive ability to hunt wild animals.

Wolves become extremely aggressive, arrogant from such own inefficiency, cease to be afraid of humans, and begin to enter settlements for the purpose of hunting. The conclusion suggests itself – the risk of collision and even attack of a wolf on a person in the area of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and the Exclusion Zone will only increase in such a situation.

To summarize, we can draw the following conclusions:

  • the wolf is not the main source of rabies in the Exclusion Zone, so changing its population is not able to reduce the risk of human infection;
  • shooting a wolf leads to a natural increase in the fox population and an increase in the number of wild dogs – the main carriers of the rabies virus;
  • shooting the wolf, especially pack leaders, leads to the appearance of aggressive and dangerous individuals, which in turn increases the likelihood of wolves appearing directly on the territory of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant and throughout the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

Specialist advice

First of all, there should be a compulsory vaccination of all wild animals in the Exclusion Zone by means of randomly scattering baits containing a special rabies vaccine.

Secondly, directly the Chernobyl personnel and all residents of the Exclusion Zone should receive regulated rabies vaccination.

Thirdly, instructing, it is necessary to educate people on how to avoid meeting an uninvited guest, and to teach them basic rules of behavior when meeting with any wild predator, including a wolf or a fox.

Today, there has already been a positive tendency to hold such seminars – workshops, which are developed by zoologists. You need to be extremely attentive to everyone, without exception, at the Chernobyl site and beyond. But this is especially true for illegal tourists taking trips to the Exclusion Zone in a group led by stalkers.

Such lovers of extreme relaxation are most often at risk of meeting unwanted guests from the forest. It is unlikely that even an experienced stalker knows that the manifestation of rabies in wild animals has a seasonal character, and the critical months for meeting them on forest paths are May, the second half of August and all of September.

Epilogue

The sluggish coordination of the work of the corresponding sanitary services has led to the fact that the situation with the presence in the Chernobyl exclusion zone of systematic outbreaks associated with rabies viruses in wild animals has become the norm. There are no modern mechanisms for observing wildlife in general and for wild animals in particular.

Operational data is therefore virtually non-existent over the years. And only today, with the advent of remote technologies at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the fading hope began to emerge that the personnel of the Exclusion Zone will be able to timely detect dangerous cases of the spread of negative factors in the Exclusion Zone, including fires or wildlife rabies virus, due to radio-controlled quadrocopters, photo and video traps.

This form of work, like many other things, should be present among the many activities conducted by the personnel of the Chernobyl Radiation-Ecological Biosphere Reserve. Therefore, not only nuclear physicists should professionally approach, but also representatives of the sanitary and epidemiological services.

There will be hope only under such conditions that ambitious plans for resuscitation of the territory of the Exclusion Zone, the deployment of modern tourist facilities in its vicinity, the introduction of new eco-routes will bring tangible benefits.

This applies not only to the development of scientific, historical, cultural potential, but also is an indicator of the state of sanitary and epidemiological protection. But today, even such an elementary concern for human security is tied to the availability of radio-technical and remote monitoring facilities at the Reserve’s personnel.

Employees are sorely lacking in technical equipment to keep up to date. The first steps towards resolving this issue by the leadership of the Reserve are already being taken, but so far they are not enough. For example, according to the UNDP small grant projects, which are implemented with the support of the Polessky Krai public organization, the Chernobyl Preserve received the long-awaited present – the DJI Mavic quadrocopter.

We can count on more effective environmental monitoring of the state of the flora and fauna of Chernobyl now. Mavic is equipped with a super modern camera that provides high quality aerial photography of the Exclusion Zone. It is one of the best quadrocopters today, and its value for use in impassable places is simply invaluable.

It is worth remembering that the Chernobyl territory and some parts of the Exclusion Zone still have quite contaminated places in terms of radiation. In addition, there are large and dangerous foci with a swampy structure, access to which is also extremely difficult. A person can’t get through in such places, but now you can fly with a quadrocopter.

The opportunity opens to see what was previously not accessible to the human eye. On the one hand, this increases the capabilities of station personnel, and on the other, it adds to the worries. But the worries are absolutely justified, of great value in the struggle for resuscitation of the entire territory of the Exclusion Zone. It is with the solution of such seemingly trivial issues that the struggle for the environmental safety of the Chernobyl NPP and the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone begins.

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