Across the globe, wildlife is exploring empty places usually occupied by people.
As humans are remaining indoors in response to the coronavirus pandemic, it appears that wildlife around the world took notice of our absence. There seems to be a never-ending list of animals becoming emboldened during this time to explore areas that are typically heavily populated: Buffalo have taken to the deserted highways in India. Mountain lions have rested in trees in Boulder, Colorado. Wild boar walk the streets of Barcelona while peacocks strut along open streets in Brazil.
Rats in New York City have somehow become even more confident in their quest for food. And a groundhog appeared to stare down two dogs watching through a window while eating a piece of pizza, which probably doesn’t have anything to do with the lockdown, but was a welcome distraction on social media nonetheless.
The Washington Post reports that a tribe of goats overtook the streets of Wales. Video taken by resident Andrew Stuart shows the animals nonchalantly roaming the empty streets and helping themselves to a meal of hedges and flower gardens.
According to SFGate, an employee from Yosemite National Park claims that since the park closed to the public in late March, the sightings of large animals including bears, bobcats, and coyotes have gone up fourfold.
“It’s not like [bears] aren’t usually here,” Yosemite employee Dane Peterson tells SFGate, “it’s that they usually hang back at the edges, or move in the shadows.”
In Mexico, crocodiles that generally stay hidden in lagoons near the beaches in La Ventanilla, Oaxaca, have been coming out in the open since the beaches were closed to the public about two weeks ago, Mexico News Daily reports.
Endangered sea turtles have also taken advantage of empty beaches to nest in Brazil and Florida. It’s too early to tell how lockdown measures will affect sea turtle numbers when it is time for the eggs to hatch. Decreased traffic could create less artificial light to confuse the hatchlings about which direction to go, Shanon Gann, the program manager at Brevard Zoo Sea Turtle Healing Center in Florida, tells weather.com.
A mixed bag for animals that depend on humans
In urban areas where wildlife is, for better or worse, dependent on human activity, the lockdown brings new challenges. The New York Times describes scenes in Thailand, where macaques have come to rely on humans for food. Their populations have become so dense in these areas because of that food supply that people staying home has quickly created a scarcity of resources, leading to aggressive behavior.
The same goes for duck ponds, ecologist Becky Thomas of Royal Holloway in London writes for The Conversation. Although feeding bread to ducks is harmful to their health and the water around them, there will be an adjustment as they compete for healthier resources.
Thomas notes that decreased traffic will lead to less hedgehog roadkill as well as reduced noise pollution that negatively affects the ability of bats, birds, and other animals to communicate.
The lack of human presence hasn’t benefited all animals, as the Times reports, particularly animals in African nature preserves. With fewer tourists around, poachers are killing rhinos with an increased frequency in Botswana and South Africa.
“We’re in a situation of zero income, and our expenses are actually going up all the time just trying to fight off the poachers and protect the reserve,” Lynne MacTavish, operations manager at Mankwe Wildlife Reserve in South Africa, tells the Times. “To say it’s desperate is an understatement. We’re really in crisis here.”
Some of the earliest widely shared reports of wildlife emerging in populated areas turned out to be false, according to National Geographic’s debunking of some of the more common untruths. One such tale says baby elephants in China got drunk on corn wine and passed out in a tea field, which might be very relatable during these times, but never happened. The absence of boats in the canals of Venice brought claims of dolphins appearing for the first time in decades, but the images were from the island of Sardinia, nearly 500 miles away.
There may not be dolphins in Venice, but the waters have gotten astonishingly clear, as the lack of gondolas and other boats on the water haven’t been stirring up sediment, CNBC reports.
Right now, it isn’t clear what the long-term effects of this lockdown will be on nature, primarily because this is occurring when many species in the Northern Hemisphere are mating, giving birth, or coming out of hibernation. Air pollution in some areas has been cut in half since the lockdowns began, Forbes reports, due to the lack of emissions from vehicles and factories. Some cities notorious for smoggy skies, including Los Angeles and Beijing, are enjoying some of the cleanest air they’ve experienced in decades. While the tolls of air pollution on human health are widely known, animals are also at risk, according to the National Wildlife Refuge System.
As many are still sheltering-in-places as we approach the 50th annual Earth Day, this resurgence of wildlife is giving some cause for hope that this evidence will ultimately lead to better policies to protect the environment and create a new normal.
“I am hopeful,” anthropologist Jane Goodall tells the Post. “I am. I lived through World War II. By the time you get to 86, you realize that we can overcome these things. One day we will be better people, more responsible in our attitudes toward nature.”