10 striking geographical locales abandoned by humans (and reclaimed by animals)

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

To paraphrase everyone's favorite chaos theorist from Jurassic Park, "Life finds a way." Indeed, that old chestnut is applicable to the following ten destinations, where animals have found a home in areas humans once tread. Remember, if you want to keep poachers out of your nature preserve, surround it with land mines.

1.) The Seagull City of the Arctic
We recently saw how marine birds have colonized the dilapidated apartment buildings of the former Soviet mining town of Pyramiden. But the seagulls aren't the only ones roaming Pyramiden's empty thoroughfares — according to recent visitors, polar bears will day trip through this ghost town.

2.) The Korean DMZ
In the 160-mile-long, 2.5-mile-wide demilitarized zone running across the Korean Peninsula, wildlife flourishes where man doesn't tread. For almost 50 years, this land-mine-filled stretch of land has been left to the elements. Without humans mucking about, wildlife has flourished. Species such as the Siberian musk deer and the endangered red-crowned crane have thrived in this accidental nature preserve. Researchers are concerned that a hasty dissolution of the DMZ could jeopardize this animal refuge.

3.) The Rocky Mountain Arsenal
This area around this shuttered chemical weapons plant in Commerce City, Colorado was once a Superfund site. When the humans moved out, coyotes and bald eagles moved in. The Arsenal refuge has since been decontaminated and bison have been introduced to the habitat.

4.) New York Subway Car Reefs
Over the last decade, New York subway cars have been dumped over the Mid-Atlantic Seaboard to provide artificial shelters for marine life. This idiosyncratic initiative hasn't been without its problems. Fishing around these new reefs has been fiercely competitive and some non-stainless steel cars that were dumped began deteriorating underwater.

5.) The Horses of Chernobyl
Animals are thriving in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, even if they are more radioactive than usual. With the humans gone, herds of the critically endangered Przewalski's horse have been introduced to the Zone. But the population of this wild horse is now dwindling due to poachers, who are consuming the flesh of Chernobyl's equine inhabitants.


6.) The Sheep of Cyprus
The U.N. Buffer Zone has run across Cyprus for 35 years, and in that time, the sheep-like Mouflon has taken over the village of Variseia. Elsewhere on Cyprus, in the British-controlled Sovereign Base Areas, vultures and other avian wildlife are making good use of the island's secluded military territory. You can see a video about the SBA wildlife at left.


7.) Japan's Rabbit Island
Japan's Okunoshima Island used to be a chemical weapons plant during World War II. Nowadays it's a tourist destination, as the island has been overrun with tame rabbits who frolic amongst visitors. You can read more about Okunoshima Island here.


8.) The Rabbits Stuck Between The Berlin Wall
Speaking of rabbits, thousands of lagomorphs lived in the "death zone" between East and West Berlin, blissfully unaware of the Cold War drama unfolding around them. After the Wall fell, the rabbit population scattered and most of them migrated to West Berlin. The documentary Rabbit à la Berlin (left) covered this phenomenon.


9.) The Dog Packs of South Queens
South Edgemere, Queens used to be a thriving beachfront community, but years of abandonment have given it the reputation as a haven for aggressive, feral dogs. Life: it's sometimes like an episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Here's some more information on this strange destination within New York City limits.


10.) The wetlands of Croatia
Certain regions of Croatia's Kopački Rit are infested with land mines, which allows local wildlife to live undisturbed by humans. You can watch a PBS documentary about this area here.

Top image by NordPaul. Middle image via Nathan Kensinger. Bottom image via ICPDR.