You’ve seen those cute videos and heartwarming news stories: kangaroos hopping through the streets of Adelaide, Australia; penguins exploring Cape Town, South Africa; deer grazing on the lawn of an apartment complex in London; bears stretching their legs in Yosemite National Park; and coyotes wandering through neighborhoods in San Francisco. With the coronavirus pandemic keeping people indoors around the world, animals are thriving, by all reports, bringing much-needed smiles to our faces and reminding us this Earth Day that we have a responsibility to share our planet with our fellow creatures.
Restrictions on travel and industry to stop the spread of the coronavirus have led to unprecedented drops in deadly air pollution in major cities around the world. The Associated Press reports that the air from Boston to Washington is its cleanest since a NASA satellite started measuring nitrogen dioxide in 2005, and in Los Angeles, air pollution is down 29 percent compared to the previous five years. In northern India, people are seeing the Himalayas clearly for the first time in 30 years.
The fact that fewer people are out and about also means fewer wild animals on land and in the waterways are being killed by cars and boat strikes (the number of animals killed in such incidents range in the hundreds of millions globally each year).
The BBC reports that in Thailand, a record number of baby leatherback sea turtles have hatched in the country’s southern Phang Nga province, famous for its beaches. Biologists say there are more turtle nests this year than there have been in the past 20 years, and attribute it to the fact that the coronavirus has kept away tourists, leaving the beaches and the turtles in peace. In Florida, scientists expect to see similar effects on leatherback turtles now nesting on the state’s east coast.
Incidents of boats hitting manatees are down— according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, as of April 10, there have been 24 manatee deaths by boat so far this year, down from 41 for the same period last year.
The U.S. National Park Service reports that in the Grand Canyon National Park, which has been closed since the beginning of April, there have been fewer vehicle-caused mortalities involving elk, mule deer and other species.
In their way, these examples and statistics are also a sobering reminder of just how deeply human development and lifestyles can shape the fate of wildlife around the world. From mountain lions in California to elephants in Africa to wolves in Oregon and Washington state, animals have less space to call home than ever before This is something we shouldn’t forget when the coronavirus subsides and we are able to return to our past routines.
It is also time to take stock of practices that have led to the decline in many wildlife species—practices that the Humane Society and its affiliates have long sought to change, including encroachment on wildlife habitat, poaching, trophy hunting, wildlife markets and the wildlife trade.
The lockdowns will end some day and we will face a new kind of world, one in which we have recognized the dangerous effects of certain human practices through which we endanger not just wildlife but ourselves. We should begin thinking about what kind of world that is going to be. And in the meantime, we can all take some steps to ensure the health of our planet and its diverse wildlife, by refusing to buy wild, refusing to participate in wildlife tourism that exploits captive animals, and by lobbying local and state policymakers for wildlife-friendly laws and regulations.
On this Earth Day, you can also consider the role you play in your own backyard and beyond, from planting native plants that provide habitat and food wild animals need to reducing mowed spaces and the use of pesticides and herbicides. Doing so can turn any outdoor area (big or small) into a safe place for wildlife, and, in the process, help the planet thrive.