The Dark Side Of A Pandemic Lockdown For Wildlife

"Lions, Tigers and Bears oh my!" was a common refrain when the pandemic swept the globe. Did we bequeath Earth to the wildlife?

The term “carbon footprint” is often used as shorthand for the amount of carbon (usually in tons) being emitted by human activity through movements. With most people's shelter in place,' our carbon footprints are significantly less, in tandem with our reduction in transportation by car, buses, trains, and planes.

Crowds vanished, opening cities, resorts, villages, and area attractions, allowing animals to take over our vacant space. Overnight, the world turned into the 1995 film Jumanji, when wild beasts descended upon the streets of everyday life.

But is there a darker side to all this new wildlife freedom? Are there cases when the world became less friendly to animals due to the pandemic? And does nature take a major hit as a result?

Wet Markets

The "wet markets" selling produce, meat and live animals provide an incubator for the emergence of infectious disease. Animals such as deer, raccoons, crocodiles, and dogs are living in filthy conditions, suffering from dehydration, starvation, and disease.

Forcing stressed, sick animals into small cages together became an incubator of new pathogens, where diseases were transferred from one species to species.

A consensus of scientists now believes there's a strong possibility SARS-CoV-2 emerged at a wet market in Wuhan, China.

Rich Man, Poor Man

What also happens during a crisis like the one we're experiencing is basic economics?  This means the lockdown meant different things for animals in rich countries versus those in impoverished communities.

Future Planet's Alexander Matthews reported: "That’s because lockdown means many things: in the cities of rich countries, it means less traffic on the roads and less pollution, which can give wildlife space to thrive. But in rural parts of poor countries, it means some people are being driven to extremes to support themselves through poaching."

“What we’re seeing is an incredible impact on nature because millions of people are suddenly unemployed and they have nothing to fall back on,” says Joseph Walston, head of global conservation at the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York City. “In places like South-east Asia, there’s this huge urban-to-rural migration where people have lost their jobs in the cities overnight. They’re now having to depend on poaching, logging or other activities that are degrading nature because they have no other option.”
Climactic Harm to Others

In addition to poaching, there's a number of pernicious activities affecting our wildlife. There have been reports about a surge in bushmeat poaching in Kenya and other parts of Africa and Cambodia, according to the non-profit Conservation International.

“During lockdown, people can’t go to work, especially those in the informal market – who rely on going out every single day to make ends meet and come back with some food,” says Michael O’Brien-Onyeka, senior vice-president of Conservation International’s Africa Field Division. “For example, the guy in the rural area who has to take out his motorbike taxi to go out and pick passengers to make a few bucks – he can’t do that anymore.”

Animals hunted for bushmeat are not the only ones at risk. Rhinoceros are poached for their horns. International travel restrictions may have hampered wildlife trafficking across borders, but on the flip side, it's leaving other animals with less and less protection.

Ironically, pangolins, who are thought to have been an animal host of Covid-19 before it passed to humans which are now hunted for their meat and scales.


Pangolins Ron Callari


Need for Enforcement

Preventing tackling poaching and selling wild animals for food has to be part of a global effort. Walston says – source countries need to strengthen regulation and enforcement too.

“This is not about vilifying China,” says Walston. “This is about us coming together and making a global decision that this trade now is antiquated.” In a world where someone can transport a new infectious disease from one continent to another in just a few hours, continuing to trade and consume wild animals is “close to societal suicide."

Matthews summed it up this way: "To carry on as we are now is to raise the risk of the next global pandemic. Such a fate, however, is far from an inevitability. The tools to defuse the situation are already at hand, in tried-and-tested measures to provide alternatives to those who are economically dependent on natural ecosystems, while strictly enforced laws to clamp down on wildlife trafficking can deter opportunists. The health of the world – its people, economy, and natural habitats – depends on it."

Your thoughts readers?

Primary Source: BBC