How did animals enjoy the natural environment without human interference while humans were isolated at home?
A large-scale study of GPS tracking data from more than 40 species of terrestrial mammals around the world shows that many animals have a wider range of activities and more relaxed behavior when there are no human disturbances.
Bears appeared on the streets of Italy. Cougars wandered in the cities of California. The town of Wales was occupied by goats. In early 2020, as people hid in their homes to stop the spread of the coronavirus, they shared stories online of wild animals returning to cities outside their windows.
Now, a large-scale study of GPS tracking data from more than 40 species of terrestrial mammals around the world, such as bears, deer, elephants, giraffes, etc., has confirmed these stories. Many animals have a wider range of activities and more relaxed behavior when there are no human disturbances.
The study was led by researchers from the US National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, who collected data from 165 research projects in 24 countries and regions around the world, covering animal activities during and before the COVID-19 pandemic from 2019 to 2020. The data included indicators such as animal location, movement speed, activity time and distance from human activity areas.
The researchers found that animals of different species, regions and habitats reacted differently during the pandemic. Some animals, such as American black bears, American moose and African elephants, showed larger activity ranges and higher movement speeds, which may mean that they encountered less human interference when looking for food or exploring new areas. Some other animals, such as European wild boars, African zebras and Asian buffaloes, showed smaller activity ranges and lower movement speeds, which may mean that they saved energy while enjoying a quieter and safer environment. Some other animals, such as North American white-tailed deer, African giraffes and Asian leopards, showed more daytime activity, which may mean that they adapted to the changes in light after human activity decreased.
The researchers pointed out that these changes are not necessarily positive or lasting. Some animals may face the risk of starvation or malnutrition due to the lack of food sources provided by humans, such as long-tailed monkeys in Indonesia or baboons in South Africa. Some animals may face the risk of being killed or hit by cars because they entered areas that were originally occupied by humans, such as cougars in California or goats in Wales. Some animals may face the risk of adaptation difficulties or increased stress when human activity resumes, such as European wild boars or African zebras.
The researchers believe that this study provides us with a rare opportunity to observe the impact of human activity on wildlife behavior and ecosystem functions and to think about how to reduce this impact in the future. They suggest that we can reduce the interference and threat to wildlife by improving urban planning, traffic management, waste disposal, wildlife protection and other measures, and promote harmonious coexistence between humans and nature.