Birds at Chernobyl suffer from cataracts

More than 25 years after the nuclear power plant accident at Chernobyl, the wildlife in surrounding areas is still feeling the effects. Birds exposed to radiation are more likely to develop cataracts, which can partially or completely blind the animals.

A cataract is the development of opacity in the eye lens. The disease is often fatal to wild animals because they have trouble finding food and avoiding predators. To find out whether radiation-exposed birds suffered from excessive cataracts, researchers netted 1,111 birds in and around the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and examined their eyes. The team also gauged radiation levels at the sites where the birds were collected.

Thirty-five percent of the Chernobyl birds had cataracts or cloudy corneas or lenses, the researchers report in PLOS ONE. The higher the background radiation at the collection site, the higher the number and severity of cataracts. Birds often developed cloudiness in both eyes, “thereby increasing the risk of death,” the authors write.Roberta Kwok | 9 August 2013

Source: Mousseau, T.A. and A.P. Moller. 2013. Elevated frequency of cataracts in birds from Chernobyl. PLOS ONE doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0066939.

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