- It’s big, it’s angry, it’s radioactive, and it might be moving into your town.
Picture a herd of wild boars charging at you from a forest. That’s scary enough on its own, but what if the boars were also highly radioactive?
You might wonder which post-nuclear-apocalypse movie we’re talking about. The thing is, though, this isn’t science fiction.
It’s just life in Germany.
The central European country is currently struggling with more than just chronically late trains. In the forests of Germany’s southern states, radioactive irate boars are wreaking havoc.
Although the hogs don’t exactly glow in the dark, they’re not harmless, either. They’re infused with so much radioactive material that eating their meat would be a pretty bad idea.
But where did all that radiation come from? If you guessed Chornobyl, you’d be wrong.
A recent study found that the primary cause behind the radioactive boars is good old-fashioned nuclear bombs. Nuclear tests all around the world have showered German wildlife with so much residue that they radiate to this day.
And that’s even though active nuclear testing by most countries in the world ceased decades ago.
For Once, It’s Not Chornobyl
Now, we should point out that the glowing boars aren’t a new phenomenon. Scientists have known for years that a dangerously radioactive wild boar population roams around the woods in southern Germany.
The question has been where that radiation came from.
For the longest time, scientific fingers pointed at the obvious suspect — Chornobyl. In 1986, the Chornobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine (then Soviet Union) had an itty-bitty meltdown and showered huge swathes of Europe in nuclear fallout.
The radioactive particles descended over Europe’s forests and leeched into the food source of the boars — and most other animals as well. For a period of time, Europe’s wildlife was fairly irradiated.
But there’s a problem with this explanation.
You see, the isotope Chornobyl belched into the air was cesium-137. Its levels in other wildlife in southern Germany have been steadily dropping over the years due to cesium-137’s natural half-life (the period of time nuclear materials take to deteriorate by half).
The boars, however, have shown no signs of becoming any less radioactive. Logic dictates that there must be another source of radiation affecting them besides Chornobyl’s fallout.
But what is it?
How the Boars Learned to Love the Bomb
Scientists decided to get to the root of the problem. Their findings were recently published in the journal American Chemical Society.
Tests performed on the boars’ meat showed that the beasts aren’t actually glowing with cesium-137. Instead, their flesh contains high levels of cesium-135.
This much longer-lasting cesium isotope is typically produced by exploding nuclear weapons.
Germany hasn’t been nuked lately, so the cesium-135 couldn’t have been homegrown. Instead, the scientists’ results show that the radioactive boars are a problem decades in the making.
The cesium-135 originated from atmospheric nuclear tests conducted all around the world, from the U.S. to the Soviet Union and elsewhere. Each nuclear explosion sent clouds of radioactive material into the Earth’s atmosphere.
“The atmospheric nuclear weapons tests conducted by any nation impacted the entire northern hemisphere quite evenly. There is an enormous upward draft after an explosion; by the time the fallout falls down to Earth, the radioactive material has evenly distributed in the higher atmosphere,” Georg Steinhauser, the study’s co-author and a radiochemist at the Vienna University of Technology, explained to The Daily Beast.
The cesium-135 isotopes descended into Germany’s forest, where truffles in the ground sucked them up in increasing amounts. And who might be gorging themselves with those truffles?
That’s right — it’s the boars.
The cesium-135 filtered into the boars through the truffles. That’s why they remain radioactive to this day.
“[The] long-forgotten atmospheric nuclear weapons tests and their fallout still cast a shadow on the environment. Just because they took place 60 years ago doesn’t mean that they no longer impact the ecosystem,” said Steinhauser.
The wild boars are so radioactive that German officials have declared their meat unsafe for human consumption. But there’s another problem with the pigs, apart from their glowing nature.
They’re aggressive, irate animals who aren’t afraid to attack people. Several people have been injured in boar attacks in Germany.
Yet, the boars have started advancing closer and closer to civilization as human garbage is a readily available, yummy source of food for them (and it might be slightly less irradiated than the truffles). Sightings of the boars attract crowds of gawkers who come around to see the funny animals.
Some of the onlookers have even started handing out food to the boars. As a result, they’re slowly losing their natural aversion to humans.
Yet, underneath that scruffy fur still beats the heart of an unpredictable, large wild animal. And when hordes of hairless apes begin to surround a boar, it might snap into fight-or-flight mode — and a boar is more likely to choose the former.
Some researchers have started warning people that the boars might become so dependent on eating human trash that they forget how to forage in the wild. That might lead to more and more of them arriving in towns, and that’s when problems are likely to start.
Just think about it. Would you want to live in a city with radioactive hogs roaming in the alleys?