Numerous images went viral as the coronavirus pandemic spread throughout the world. The photographs brought some environmental hope amid this droughty crisis, depicting swans and dolphins that appeared in the once cloudy and crowded canals of Venice, Italy, which had gone extremely clear after the national lockdown.
National Geographic, however, later reported that the situation was not quite like it was depicted, as swans actually are present in the area a lot, and the dolphins were captured in Sardinia. Still, none of that lessens the possibility that changes in human activity during the outbreak might end up changing the behavior of animals as well.
Animal Behavior is Impacted By Humans
According to John Fryxell, executive director of the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario and professor in the College of Biological Science at the University of Guelph, animals are ‘strongly influenced by the human footprint.’
Fryxell also stated that animals react to humans rather quickly, mentioning, for instance, how deer and elk will change their behavior when they are aware of the fact that people are hunting in that region.
“During hunting season, deer tend to move less often, concentrate their movements in core parts of their home range, are more vigilant than usual and have less access to places with abundant forage, so [they] feed at lower rates,” Fryxell explained.
In some areas, animal behavior seems to have changed more instantly. The New York Times reported that some animals were subjected to hunger in popular tourist places in Thailand and Japan because people weren’t showing up anymore.
“The fall in tourist numbers because of COVID-19 may have indeed brought about a shortage of food supply for them,” Asmita Sengupta, an ecologist in Bangalore, India, told the Times.
This definitely shows the harmful effects of feeding wild animals, and we cannot say we weren’t warned of this.
“Once they get used to being fed by humans, they become habituated to humans and even display hyper-aggression if not given food,” Sengupta said.
The Effects of the Pandemic on Animals
One specific change in human behavior might offer a large number of animals a new, even though it is temporary, take on life. Due to the massive lockdown, road mortality for wildlife could decrease.
“If you remove the number of vehicles, there’s going to be [fewer] road deaths,” said James Pagé, the Canadian Wildlife Federation‘s species at risk and biodiversity specialist.
The company has been working with turtles, mainly in eastern Ontario and Muskoka area of Ontario, and they stated that ‘the highest number of turtle mortalities are on the busiest roads.’ With a lower number in turtle road deaths, there could be a small boost in the turtle population, the expert said.
Fryxell has also warned about making predictions on the way the human response to the pandemic is impacting animals. However, this is something that can be analyzed; he said: “Maybe over the course of the summer, we’ll see something that is meaningful.”
He also noted that the outcome could differ from species to species. Supposedly, the pandemic is a temporary crisis, and there is almost no evidence to suggest that any changes that might be seen in animals would become permanent behavior.
However, the current state does provide us with an opportunity to think about the effects human behavior has on animals.
“It gives us an opportunity to see what it might be like if we do reduce our movements,” Pagé said.
Paula is an outstanding reporter for Henri Le Chat Noir, always finding new and interesting topics to bring to the portal. She mostly crafts Science and Technology news articles, covering everything one needs to know about those niches. Paula studied at Concordia University.