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Animals Took to the Streets During Covid Lockdowns

Animals Took to the Streets During Covid Lockdowns

A band of mountain goats walking the streets of a Welsh town during a Covid lockdown. (Source: Getty)

In early 2020, when lockdowns sent a large chunk of the world’s population indoors, strange things began to happen. Air pollution cleared, waterways got cleaner, and wild animals took to the streets that humans had left empty. Hard as it is to imagine, it has been three years since these lockdowns, but the studies on their effects are still coming in. A recent one, just published in Science outlines the ways animal movements changed as they responded to a world with less noise, less traffic, and less humans. It found that a disease that devastated humankind briefly allowed for a resurgence for the rest of the animal kingdom.

The study examined the GPS-tracked movements of 2,300 land-based mammals across 43 species during two periods, the 2020 lockdowns and the same time period in 2019. What exactly constitutes a lockdown is a matter of debate, but under the strictest measures, animals increased their movements across 10-day periods by 73%. Conversely, across 1-hour periods, movement decreased by 12%. This shows that in the long term, animals moved further, unencumbered by dangerous roadways, while in the short term they stayed put and foraged, less likely to be scared off by human activity.

In addition to distance displacement, the study also considered proximity to roadways, with animals in high traffic areas moving 36% closer to roads during lockdowns. With the reduced threat of impacts and reduced noise from passing cars, animals were drawn closer to roads, something they usually avoid. Ironically, under these conditions roads can actually facilitate animal movements, rather than hinder them as they usually do.

Overall, exact findings from the study are difficult to quantify, with different species responding to different levels of lockdown, but the averages are quite clear. The lockdown period functioned as a control group for our impact on the environment, and with a reduced human presence, animals had greater mobility than the same time period the year before. Hopefully, studies like this can be a call for better environmentally-conscious designs, like wildlife crossing that seamlessly allows migrating animals to move under or below busy roads.

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