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Chernobyl's Wildlife Population Has Grown Since the Disaster

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It has been nearly 30 years since the explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant prompted the surrounding area to be evacuated, creating a region now known as the "exclusion zone." A recent study found that while most people are now gone, there may be more animals around Chernobyl than there were before the accident.

Over 116,000 people left during the evacuation, and those who still work in the area are restricted in the number of days that they can stay inside the exclusion zone due to health concerns associated with prolonged exposure to radiation. But when the people moved out, new tenants moved in. “Our long-term empirical data showed no evidence of a negative influence of radiation on mammal abundance,” the study, published in the journal Current Biology, says. “Relative abundances of elk, roe deer, red deer and wild boar within the Chernobyl exclusion zone are similar to those in four (uncontaminated) nature reserves in the region and wolf abundance is more than 7 times higher.”

The scientists believe that it’s the lack of humans, and not an attraction to radiation, that has caused an increase in the animal population. “This doesn’t mean radiation is good for wildlife,” Professor Jim Smith of Portsmouth University tells The Independent, “just that the effects of human habitation, including hunting, farming and forestry, are a lot worse.”

Last year, the New York Times published a video titled "The Animals of Chernobyl" featuring Dr. Timothy Mousseau, a biologist who studies the changes in plant and animal life in the exclusion zone. Conversely, Dr. Mousseau found that many species of birds were “depressed” in areas of high contamination, which led to a decrease in biodiversity and 50% fewer species.

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Freak Out After Pooping?
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Cats often exhibit some very peculiar behavior, from getting into deadly combat situations with their own tail to pouncing on unsuspecting humans. Among their most curious habits: running from their litter box like a greyhound after moving their bowels. Are they running from their own fecal matter? Has waste elimination prompted a sense of euphoria?

Experts—if anyone is said to qualify as an expert in post-poop moods—aren’t exactly sure, but they’ve presented a number of entertaining theories. From a biological standpoint, some animal behaviorists suspect that a cat bolting after a deposit might stem from fears that a predator could track them based on the smell of their waste. But researchers are quick to note that they haven’t observed cats run from their BMs in the wild.

Biology also has a little bit to do with another theory, which postulates that cats used to getting their rear ends licked by their mother after defecating as kittens are showing off their independence by sprinting away, their butts having taken on self-cleaning properties in adulthood.

Not convinced? You might find another idea more plausible: Both humans and cats have a vagus nerve running from their brain stem. In both species, the nerve can be stimulated by defecation, leading to a pleasurable sensation and what some have labeled “poo-phoria,” or post-poop elation. In running, the cat may simply be working off excess energy brought on by stimulation of the nerve.

Less interesting is the notion that notoriously hygienic cats may simply want to shake off excess litter or fecal matter by running a 100-meter dash, or that a digestive problem has led to some discomfort they’re attempting to flee from. The fact is, so little research has been done in the field of pooping cat mania that there’s no universally accepted answer. Like so much of what makes cats tick, a definitive motivation will have to remain a mystery.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Animals
Listen to the Impossibly Adorable Sounds of a Baby Sloth
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RODRIGO ARANGUA/AFP/GettyImages

Sometimes baby sloths seem almost too adorable to be real. But the little muppet-faced treasures don't just look cute—turns out they sound cute, too. We know what you're thinking: How could you have gone your whole life without knowing what these precious creatures sound like? Well, fear not: Just in time for International Sloth Day (today), we have some footage of how the tiny mammals express themselves—and it's a lot of squeaking. (Or maybe that's you squealing?)

The sloths featured in the heart-obliterating video below come from the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica. The institution rescues orphaned sloths, rehabilitates them, and gets them ready to be released back into the wild.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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