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What Was the World’s Wildlife Up to During the Covid-19 Lockdowns?

During the Covid-19 lockdowns, the world's wildlife experienced a rare respite as human activity slowed. Animals roamed freely in urban areas, and nature reclaimed spaces typically bustling with people. This unexpected pause in human movement offered a unique glimpse into how wildlife might thrive without our constant interference. What other remarkable changes occurred in their behaviors? Join us to uncover these stories.
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman

Throughout the Covid-19 lockdowns in 2020 and 2021, social media and news sites contained numerous anecdotes about wild animals, from sea lions to goats to cougars, appearing in urban parks and town centers and behaving more boldly in the absence of humans. You may have even noticed examples of this behavior yourself.

But were these just isolated incidents that went viral or did the lockdowns really have a measurable impact on wildlife behavior and movements? Earlier this month, the journal Science published the results of a collaborative study involving 175 scientists from around the world who provided location-tracking data on around 2,300 mammals. The goal was to make use of the extraordinary circumstances of the lockdowns to observe how animals behave in the near-absence of humans.

A collaborative study used location data from the Covid-19 lockdowns to observe how the absence of humans affected mammals around the world.
A collaborative study used location data from the Covid-19 lockdowns to observe how the absence of humans affected mammals around the world.

These creatures were already being tracked for other research purposes, so scientists were easily able to compare the animals' movements in spring 2020 with their movements a year earlier. It appears that the animals felt able to move around more freely when there was less human interference. For example, in one 10-day period in 2020, they traveled 73% farther than they had during the same period in 2019. Likewise, compared to the previous year, the animals came 36% closer to roads in 2020, as they were much quieter without the usual traffic.

When humans take a step back:

  • Interestingly, the researchers noticed that during short periods of time (i.e. an hour), the animals tended to remain more stationary in 2020 than they had in 2019 – likely an indication that people weren’t scaring them away as frequently.

  • Perhaps most astounding was how quickly the animals reverted to their pre-pandemic behaviors as soon as lockdowns were lifted and people once again populated the roads and urban areas.

  • The study reinforces the need to provide animals with plenty of space to move safely and avoid disturbances from humans, especially during breeding and nesting periods. Last summer, a new federal infrastructure bill set aside $350 million USD to build wildlife fences, overpasses, and underpasses near busy highways.

Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman is a teacher and blogger who frequently writes for WiseGEEK about topics related to personal finance, parenting, health, nutrition, and education. Learn more...
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman is a teacher and blogger who frequently writes for WiseGEEK about topics related to personal finance, parenting, health, nutrition, and education. Learn more...

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    • A collaborative study used location data from the Covid-19 lockdowns to observe how the absence of humans affected mammals around the world.
      By: Brian Lasenby
      A collaborative study used location data from the Covid-19 lockdowns to observe how the absence of humans affected mammals around the world.