Effects Of COVID-19 Pandemic Reveal Human Impact On Wildlife

The global population continues to face challenges brought by COVID-19. But to some scientists, the coronavirus pandemic has been giving them an opportunity to understand the impacts of humans on wildlife.

In an article, recently published in Nature Ecology & Evolution, experts highlighted how the temporary closure of many places around the world to manage the disease led to "anthropause." This period involves suddenly slowing down modern human activities, mainly travel.

Anthropause comes with many challenges. People have very limited interactions and access to jobs, health, transportation and other necessities. 

But to animals, the unusually reduced human mobility may have some benefits. Over the past months, there have been posts on social media showing unusual wildlife encounters, like pumas roaming the streets of downtown Santiago, Chile, and dolphins visiting the waters in the harbour of Trieste, Italy.

The increased wildlife presence, mainly in metropolitan areas, suggests that nature has responded to coronavirus lockdown. But some animals have also been facing challenges amid the pandemic since they rely on human activities. 

For example, urban-dwelling animals, like gulls, rats and monkeys, have been struggling to get access to human food. In more remote areas, the lower number of people is expected to put endangered species, such as rhinos or raptors, at increased risk of poaching.

Scientists said as humans try to manage the impacts of COVID-19, the world should also prioritize the effects of modern human mobility on wildlife. The lockdowns provide an idea on how animals respond to human presence. 

To better understand human-wildlife interactions, experts launched the “COVID-19 Bio-Logging Initiative,” which aims to investigate animal movements, behavior and stress levels before, during and after lockdowns. The international consortium will use data from animal-attached electronic devices called "bio-loggers."

“All over the world, field biologists have fitted animals with miniature tracking devices,” Christian Rutz, a biologist at the University of St Andrews and president of the International Bio-Logging Society, said in a statement. “These bio-loggers provide a goldmine of information on animal movement and behavior, which we can now tap to improve our understanding of human-wildlife interactions, with benefits for all.”

Experts hope the global initiative will help understand whether modern landscapes are predominantly affected by built structures or by the increased presence of humans. The findings may also guide future proposals or initiatives for improving human-wildlife coexistence.

“Nobody is asking for humans to stay in permanent lockdown,” Martin Wikelski, director of the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior in Germany, said. “But we may discover that relatively minor changes to our lifestyles and transport networks can potentially have significant benefits for both ecosystems and humans.”

Data Worldmap Movebank data worldmap. MPIAB/MaxCine