Across the globe, governments are mandating lockdowns, quarantines and social distancing measures in towns and cities. As more and more places hunker down in response to the spread of COVID-19, social media posts about animals returning to deserted urban centres have enchanted an anxious online population.
Sadly, many of these posts are fake – there have always been swans in the Burano area of Venice’s canals, and there were no drunken elephants in China’s Yunnan province. However, there are signs that the shift in the rhythms of urban life has emboldened some, usually reclusive, wildlife to explore.
Urban wildlife usually lurks on the peripheries, emerging only at night to be witnessed by the occasional late night (or early morning) human wanderer. In San Francisco, for example, coyotes are an essential part of the diversity of the local ecosystem, benefitting the city by acting as natural predators for the rodent population.
They likely live all over the green areas surrounding San Francisco, but rarely venture out in the daylight hours. Whilst it is not completely abnormal to see a coyote in the daytime, they usually travel by night to avoid contact with people. Now, however, it seems they are enjoying the decrease in human and vehicular traffic as an opportunity to ramble the city’s deserted streets.
Similarly, Nara, Japan – a city whose UNESCO World Heritage shrines and temples attract huge numbers of visitors every year – has seen a huge reduction in tourist footfall in response to the pandemic. As a result, herds of sika deer, usually fed rice cakes in Nara’s parks, are having to adapt to a change in circumstance, and have been seen venturing beyond the grassy confines of their usual park territories. This is a risky manoeuvre, as the sika deer risk being hit by cars on the roads, and the long-term impact of the change has yet to be seen.
There are no silver linings to the outbreak of COVID-19, but what we can observe is a salient reminder that wildlife has always been a part of our cities, and that our cities are a part of nature – in urban spaces, we should be able to coexist peacefully with our four-legged and winged companions. It may be a fantasy to believe that once the peak of the epidemic has passed, and business and travel resumes, we’ll continue to see such drops in worldwide pollution levels. But, what will undoubtedly come out of this forced change is the realisation that there is potential to change working practices and lifestyle choices for the good of the environment – when changes have to be made, we have the capacity to do so, and should continue to be made when the pandemic has passed for the benefit of the natural environment.
For The Yucatan Times
Shannon Collins is a freelance writer, contributing to a variety of publications. As well as working with environmental organisations, she is pursuing a MA in English Linguistics at University College London.
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