How animals around the world are responding to COVID-19

Written by:
April 22, 2020
Tomohiro Ohsumi // Getty Images

How animals around the world are responding to COVID-19

No species in history has ever dominated the world as thoroughly as human beings. There's only a handful of places left on Earth where the collective footprint of humanity isn't immediately evident. The natural world—and the animals that live in it—can now exist only beyond the boundaries of the massive swaths of land people have claimed for themselves.

The global coronavirus lockdown, however, has suddenly made the sight of humans scarce. With millions of people mostly shuttered up indoors, the animal kingdom is waking up to the fact that its stomping grounds have expanded dramatically in some cases—and such a quick and radical change in human behavior has naturally led to an equally rapid shift in the behavior of the animals living among and around them.

Reports of strange behaviors, odd sightings, and straight-up neighborhood takeovers are seeping out of every corner of the world, from India and the Far East to Europe, Latin America, and the United States. Some instances are obvious—animals are simply wandering into and exploring areas that humans previously occupied. In other cases, animals that depended on humans for food are now seeking out other sources.

Others are more indirect, like massive spikes in requests for animal adoptions and fostering opportunities in some cities. In a few more sinister and upsetting cases, humans are using the crisis as a chance to exploit animals while the world's attention is fixed on the virus.

Stacker compiled reports of animals exploring quiet streets and other reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic from a variety of journalistic sources. While many people are cooped up at home, the animal world is expanding into and encroaching onto land that's been off-limits to them for generations. Keep reading to learn about how a human reaction to a global pandemic is changing the behavior of the animals that suddenly have much more room to rove.

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Goats take over Welsh town

It’s not unusual to spot a few stragglers from the herd of wild Kashmiri goats that live around the Welsh seaside town of Llandudno, according to the BBC. There are more than 120 of the horned and ravenous nomadic mammals living off the surrounding land. With its residents sheltered in their homes during the COVID-19 crisis and the streets of Llandudno empty, however, the herd moved in, gobbling up hedges and feasting on gardens and front yard flowers.

Deer roam the streets in India

A town on lockdown in India was also visited by a local herd of wild animals—this time it was deer. Footage from the incident showed residents marveling from their windows as the herd sauntered down the street to the delight of children and utter confusion of neighborhood dogs.

Monkey gangs battle in Thailand

Meanwhile, in Thailand, a less genteel display of gathering wildlife took place. The historic city of Lopburi is home to thousands of monkeys, all of which have grown accustomed to being fed by the city’s legions of tourists—a tradition for generations. With no tourists, however, the monkeys are starving and restless—a recent turf war pitted a huge gang of temple monkeys against an equally formidable crew of street monkeys.

Wild boar search Barcelona for food

Large, ravenous, and potentially very aggressive, wild boar have long lived in the countryside outside of Barcelona, Spain. With humans sheltered at home, however, the boar have extended their neverending mission for food closer and closer to the city center. In one of the most metropolitan cities in the world, wild boar are literally roaming the streets.

Ducks aren't getting food from humans

Thailand's monkeys aren't the only animals that rely on humans for food—ducks in the United Kingdom are now suffering from a lack of dropped or offered morsels. Geese, too, are now looking for new sources of nourishment as their human caretakers sit at home.

New York animal shelters see increase in adoptions

The COVID-19 crisis hasn’t been all bad news for animals. Animal shelters and rescue operations across New York have reported a significant increase in the number of companionship-hungry residents adopting or fostering animals.

Less outdoor time advised for cats

All cats should be house cats during the COVID-19 crisis, according to America’s vets. CNN recently reported that since the virus can live on cats’ bodies temporarily, they can act as transmitters and shouldn’t be allowed outdoors.

Penguins tour Shedd Aquarium

Rockhopper penguins at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago transformed from inhabitants to tourists when the facility shut down as the coronavirus began spreading. The staff members used their imaginations to keep the animals enriched and engaged. They temporarily turned the penguins loose from their exhibit, and the waddling birds immediately began touring the aquarium and examining other animals in their own enclosures.

Rhinos at risk of being poached

An enormous ecotourism industry funds much of the anti-poaching and conservation efforts in several African countries whose vast preserves are home to some of the continent’s most majestic and endangered wildlife. Among them are rhinos, which are now much more vulnerable to poachers as tourism-based anti-poaching funding disappears.

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Coyotes explore San Francisco

Unlike rhinos, "specialists" that require a specific diet and specific habitat to survive, coyotes are "generalists" that can make a living in a variety of environments with a variety of foods. Not long after receiving its shelter-in-place order in the middle of March, San Francisco residents reported spotting coyotes wandering the streets of the city. Those reports were soon followed by video footage from residents and social media posts.

Wild bear wanders Arcadia

The Los Angeles-area city of Arcadia, California, is situated on the edge of Angeles National Forest—and with the streets desolate, a visitor from the forest ventured into the city. A local news crew spotted an enormous black bear lumbering around, looking for food and knocking over trash cans.

Deer roam Nara, Japan

The more than 1,000 sika deer that roam Japan’s Nara Park rarely leave the 1,240-acre wilderness—they have all the food they need right there. The park sells stacks of rice crackers to tourists, who come from all over just to feed the deer. With the tourists gone, however, multiple herds of a dozen or more deer have been spotted venturing into the city looking for food, wandering through subway stations and nibbling on the plants in people’s yards.

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Mountain lion climbs tree in Boulder backyard

Much of Colorado is a rugged mountain wilderness, but Boulder is a city big enough and busy enough to keep that wilderness at bay—when it’s up and running, that is. When residents noticed a mountain lion calmly lounging in a tree outside their houses, they alerted wildlife officials. Authorities decided to let the large, predatory cat take a nap, climb down, and head back into the wilderness on its own.

Peacocks wander in Ronda

In the city of Ronda, Spain, locked down visitors got a much-welcomed distraction from the isolation—and one that came with an outsized helping of ornate plumage. Two peacocks found their way onto the empty streets and did what peacocks do best—paraded and showed off.

Cow chills in Delhi

Cows are revered in much of India, but one bovine in Delhi took its sacred status to a new level. With residents locked down and busy roads empty, a large cow was photographed sprawled out in the middle of a desolate main road.

Puma leaves mountains for Santiago

Yet another case of animals attempting to reclaim cities for nature occurred in Chile’s normally bustling city of Santiago. With all quiet on the streets after a government lockdown due to COVID-19, a puma descended from the Andes Mountains to scout the goings-on in one of South America’s most populated urban centers.

Peacocks explore Dubai streets

Dubai—the most populated city in the United Arab Emirates—also received an influx of peacocks during this coronavirus crisis. Just as they did in Spain, the opulently ornamented birds took the opportunity presented by the lockdown to stroll the streets of an empty city. They normally live in—and rarely venture out of—nearby gardens.

Cows take over French beaches

India is not alone in being home to cows reassessing their boundaries while most humans remain shuttered in their homes. So-called beach cows have been photographed sunning themselves along the sandy coast of Corsica, a French island in the Mediterranean Sea.

Baby rabbits get brave in Christchurch

Rabbits in Christchurch, New Zealand, were long hemmed into an isolated stretch of nature by a network of busy roads surrounding their enclave. Now, those roads are all but empty. Within just a few short days of the lockdown, baby rabbits had the courage—and the opportunity—to cross the roads into the town and go where no rabbit had gone before.

Deer take over East London

In England's East London, it was deer, once again, that made themselves at home while enjoying an absence of human activity. An entire herd set up shop in towns like Harold Hill, lounging—and nibbling—on front lawns and meandering through deserted streets.

Rats come out more often

In cities like New Orleans, where it’s not uncommon to spot a rat in the best of times, people are reporting far more sightings of the much-maligned rodents. With no restaurant waste and goodies discarded by tourists to munch on, rats are venturing out in greater numbers in search of food.

Whales spotted in the Mediterranean

The coronavirus has also quieted the seas, and with cruise ships, pleasure boats, recreational boats, and the rest mostly docked on the shore, many marine animals are enjoying a respite from the chaos, clutter, pollution, and sounds that human watercraft produce. Among them are enormous fin whales, which have made rare appearances near French soil in the Mediterranean Sea.

Bronx Zoo tiger tests positive

One of the more bizarre confirmed COVID-19 cases came out of the Bronx Zoo in New York City, but it wasn’t an employee or a patron who tested positive—it was a tiger. Experts believe the cat—which was tested after developing a dry cough and is expected to recover—caught the virus from an infected but asymptomatic employee.

Attention is called to wildlife trafficking

Animals have been at the forefront of the discussion about COVID-19 since it first began to travel the globe, and despite a flood of misinformation, some good might come out of it. With groups like the World Health Organization, Global Wildlife Conservation, and the Wildlife Conservation Society putting the animal trade under a microscope, the world might realize a reduction in the smuggling, trafficking, and illicit sale of animals.

China bans consumption of wild animals

It's believed that COVID-19 was first transferred by an animal—likely a bat, pangolin, or snake—in a wet market in Wuhan, China. The government has since issued a temporary ban on people raising, selling, and consuming certain kinds of animals. With China's long and deeply rooted tradition of not only eating exotic animals, but also using them for medicine and spiritual rituals, enforcing the ban will be easier said than done.

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