It is a no brainer that the layman has developed a notion during this Covid-19 pandemic that quality of wildlife has improved many folds due to imposition of lockdown. This is evident as media has left no stone unturned in enlightening the public about the emerging wildlife in metropolitans’ green spaces. However, this ‘refuge effect’ is very similar to that we see in post-war-stricken countries where there is a rapid movement of wildlife in areas where there is little to no human movement, i.e. in the war zones.
Small Indian Civet Spotted in Meppayyur; Source: Mathrubhumi
We need to keep in mind that the presence of wildlife in cities is not correlated to our wild counterparts’ better quality and flourishing. The SARS-CoV-2 placed in the limelight, the relationship between humans and wildlife. This pandemic has been implicating effects on wildlife in multiple ways that are doing more harm than good to human health and livelihoods. By delving further into these various pathways affecting the relationship between humans and wildlife, we can better understand the socio-ecological dynamics that link the people, nature and ecosystem experiencing this pandemic shock. By understanding this implication, we will be better prepared to facilitate the development and application of more effective responses to the current pandemic.
In a study published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, it was observed that the effects of war on wildlife were very similar to that of this pandemic on wildlife, namely, profound disruptions to human communities, wildlife population, and their interconnections. In this study, it was found that the effect of the pandemics widespread institutional, social and economic disruptions on wildlife are likely to be awfully cynical in most contexts. Although benefits to wild are ephemeral, on the flip side, the negative impacts can persist over extensive temporal and geographic scales, compounded by interactions across pathways.
Deer cross a road in Nara, Japan, where groups of deer have begun foraging in the city's residential ; Source: Forbes
The COVID 19 pandemic weakens the already weak institutional support for conservation by obstructing funding streams, eroding the protection of parks and vulnerable species and stalling vital monitoring and research activities that make these impacts conspicuous. Due to travel and movement restrictions to minimise the spread of the virus, there have been critical revenue losses in tourism for parks around the world. Moreover, a reduced number of park personnel and protection has resulted in many wildlife crimes like illegal logging and hunting. Conservation efforts may further be hampered by withdrawal of government and philanthropic funds and weakening of environmental regulations under the guise of economic reforms and recovery.
The migration of people due to this pandemic may also impact the patter of use of natural resources. For example, the pandemic has resulted in an exodus of people from urbanscapes to rural areas due to widespread job losses, the decline in remittances, and disruption of the food system in multiple scales. Another area that might be affected is the increase in the consumption of wild meat. The economic and food insecurity and weakened enforcement of anti-poaching laws compounded with interruptions in the domestic food supply chain are likely to increase local demand for wild meat. Policies that give livelihood alternatives rather than the criminalisation of wild meat consumers will be more effective and equitable than universal bans.
Even though conservation and environmental regulation may take a backseat in the near future, policymakers must remember that biodiversity and economic health are closed correlated to human well being. Deprioritising conservation may ultimately heighten socio-economic woes.
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K. Gaynor et al., "Anticipating the impacts of the COVID ‐19 pandemic on wildlife", Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, vol. 18, no. 10, pp. 542-543, 2020. Available: 10.1002/fee.2275 [Accessed 5 January 2021].