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Updated: Jun 29, 2020

Could the lockdown lead to improvements in wildlife conservation?

Approximately a third of the world’s population is estimated to have been living under lockdown and as we all hid away, numerous stories emerged of wildlife reclaiming the streets and appearing in all sorts of surprising places. There was even a viral video celebrating these unusual sightings.

Now, as restrictions are lifted, an international team of researchers and scientists is coming together to investigate how animals truly responded to the much lower levels of human activity during lockdown – or, as they've dubbed it, the great “anthropause”.

In a recent article in Nature Ecology & Evolution, the study's leaders describe how such research could create innovative conservation strategies that would enable humans and animals to better share our increasingly crowded planet.

The team argue that humanity cannot afford to miss the opportunity to chart – for the first time on a global scale – the extent to which human activity impacts wildlife. So, they have established the Covid-19 Bio-Logging Initiative: an international consortium that will investigate animals’ movements, behaviour and stress levels, before, during and after the lockdown, using data collected by electronic devices, or tags, called bio-loggers.

“All over the world, field biologists have fitted animals with miniature tracking devices,” said lead author, Professor Christian Rutz, a biologist at the University of St Andrews and president of the International Bio-Logging Society. “These bio-loggers provide a goldmine of information on animal movement and behaviour, which we can now tap to improve our understanding of human-wildlife interactions, with benefits for all.”

Rutz’s team will integrate results from a wide variety of animals, including fish, birds and mammals, in an attempt to formulate a worldwide picture of the effects of lockdown.

These insights will then inform proposals for improving human-wildlife coexistence, according to Professor Martin Wikelski, director of the Max Planck Institute for Animal Behavior in Radolfzell, Germany.  

“We may discover that relatively minor changes to our lifestyles and transport networks can potentially have significant benefits for both ecosystems and humans,” he said.

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