Coronavirus: Will Canadians see more wildlife in their backyards as people self-isolate?

Amid the global COVID-19 pandemic, many Canadians are self-isolating and staying home to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus that causes it, leading to quieter streets in municipalities nationwide.

With the sudden decline in human and vehicle traffic on sidewalks and roads, will Canadians start to see more wildlife in their towns and cities? Experts say it’s possible.

Almost two weeks ago, a video surfaced of a swarm of starving monkeys brawling for food in the streets of Thailand. After that, several other images circulated online of animals purportedly reappearing in other human-occupied municipalities, though these were later debunked by National Geographic.

Canadian wildlife visibility and COVID-19

In Canada, there are species that are already adapted to living in humanized landscapes like raccoons, skunks and coyotes, which people might start to notice more of, according to experts.

“You will begin to notice that subset of animals that have always been there with us,” Faisal Moola, a geography, environment and geomatics professor at the University of Guelph, told Global News.

“Those include those animals that are generalists, that are well-adapted to living in humanized geography.”

James Pagé, at-risk species and biodiversity specialist with the Canadian Wildlife Federation, said that while he’s not sure people will see a spike in animals in urban centres, people may have an opportunity to see wildlife more because they’re not being scared off as much.

“With decreased activity, they may not be scared off as much,” Pagé said. “In general, and in Canada, we’re fortunate, generally, to have a lot of natural spaces in and around our cities so that these species may not have a need to come in.”

Behavioural changes in wildlife amid COVID-19 pandemic

Wildlife is very responsive to human activity, according to Adam Ford, the Canada Research Chair in wildlife restoration ecology and a biology professor at the University of British Columbia.

“As people change their behaviour, you can imagine that some wildlife may change as a result, but some of the drivers of that change in behaviour are not going to change even if people are self-isolating,” Ford said.

For example, he noted, there’s still a lot of sensory pollution from light in cities, and some buildings and machinery are still making noise.

Moola agrees.

“I don’t think this should be really seen as a reflection of nature taking the cities back because the reality is we still impact their habitat in other ways — and quite destructively,” Moola explained. “Climate change is still happening, and the release of pollutants into the air and into the waters is still happening.”

Different species respond to different cues of danger from people, according to Ford.

“Depending on which of those cues are removed, we’ll see maybe some filtering of some wildlife that maybe are going to move closer or change their daily routines a little bit,” Ford said.

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