Wild animals and clean rivers: An eco-friendly new normal under COVID-19 lifestyle

Significant changes for wildlife and climate during COVID-19 pandemic urged people to rethink our relationship with nature. Will this be a turning point in our attitude to nature?

“When the cat’s away the mice will play”. Coronavirus has kept humans around the world indoors. When cities and towns were falling into silence, animals started to expand their territory by showing up in places once full of people, exploring the world without humans.

A wild boar was found running on the Wuhan Yangtze River Bridge in China during lockdown. Sea turtles, which are extremely endangered by extinction, were witnessed on closed beaches in Brazil. A herd of mountain goats showed up on central streets of a town in North Wales and ate hedges from residents’ gardens.

While we were locked at home, animals started going out and enjoying life without human.

These video clips of wild animals reappearing were widely shared on various social media platforms. Following this topic, many people commented that although this global pandemic has brought human society to a standstill, nature was responding in a better way. Others shared their own “intimate” experiences with nature during lockdown.

Since the social distancing rules has been announced in the UK, observing plants and squirrels in the park has become the best thing to do for many people during the one-time-a-day outdoor exercise. Seeing wildlife enjoying their freedom helps them relax and reduce pressure. However, this new way of entertaining developed under the lockdown lifestyle has reconnected humans to nature in different ways. Some said the world without traffic noises has raised their awareness of nature in a way they never had before. Others realized how important nature is in such a difficult time.

Beth Jane Howard is a designer living in Cardiff, the capital of Wales, UK. She lives 5 minutes from a park and used to walk through it several times a week. But since the lockdown, she spent more time exploring more parks and has developed a deeper feelings towards the park and the nature.

“You get more appreciation for nature,” said Beth, “it’s definitely one of the things I know from a lot of people that kept them as sane as possible at the moment.”

“I’m really grateful to be able to give myself peace by walking through this beautiful park,” said Beth on her social media post. Sometimes she shared photos of the scenery she saw on the walk, sometimes her feelings about the current situation and about nature.

Beth posted photos of trees and animals she took in the Bute Park, Cardiff.

Although “wild animals taking over the street” is not a common scene that everyone can witness, some small differences are happening quietly within human society, which remind us of how the environment used to be, and how much we have been consuming it.

“The river Taff is clean now!” Said Beth. She realized the river Taff running through Cardiff was clearer when she cycled past it during the lockdown, “it’s so clean because no one can really litter in it.” 

Besides this obvious change Beth and many other people have noticed, scientists made the same conclusion through data they collected.

On March 2, 2020, more than a month after coronavirus was reported to have first hit China, NASA posted a map which showed “significant decreases” of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) over China in February. According to NASA Earth Observatory, this phenomenon is a result of the coronavirus quarantine, Chinese New Year and a related economic slowdown.

NASA Earth Observatory found NO2 amounts have dropped in China over February.

In order to confirm if it is linked to traffic bans and other restrictions in China due to coronavirus, air quality scientists in NASA measured on a longer period and compared the data to those measured in the same period in 2019. They confirmed that this drop of NO2 in China was “unusual” and was caused not only because of Chinese New Year holiday.

“This year, the reduction (of NO2) is more significant than in previous years and has lasted longer,” said Fei Liu, a researcher on air quality at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, to Euronews, “many cities in the country have taken steps to minimise the spread of the virus.”

The same phenomenon occurred later to Europe in March and April.

When this virus was first spread wildly in Italy and then around the rest of Europe, many countries started to take measures in order to slow down the spread. This included closing restaurants and shops, reducing traffic amounts and asking citizens to stay at home.

As a result, a huge reduction of road and air traffic across the UK and within Europe was shown in several researches, which led to a NO2 emission plunge in April.

According to the Finland-based Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), the NO2 level has dropped by nearly 40 percent in April. This decreases meant that 11,000 deaths have been avoided across Europe, including a rough amount of 1,750 in the UK.

The avoided health impacts covered asthma attack, premature births etc.

From the clearer river seen by Beth in a welsh city, to the dramatic decline on gas emissions shown by scientific research, the COVID-19 pandemic has provided a huge difference to the world as human activities are reduced. Some scientists considered it as a “clear warning shot” to humans. They believe this issue is serious enough to waken our awareness of how much we have sacrificed the environment in order to increase the economy.

Inger Andersen, the UN’s environment chief, executive director of the UN Environment Programme, told The Guardian that nature was sending us a message with the coronavirus pandemic and other climate crisis.

She pointed out that we were putting too much pressure on the natural world. Once this pandemic is past, our long-term goal should “tackle habitat and biodiversity loss”.

Just like Inger Andersen, many individuals and organizations believed that this pandemic should be a turning point of human’s attitude towards the nature. Some called on others to consider this as a chance to see the impact we could make on the world and make different choices. The Thai government, who took lessons from this outbreak, have already taken steos to protect nature.

Ryan Hodgson shared a video of animal reclaiming the world from European Union Club on Twitter, calling on people to show more respect to nature.

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Khao Khiao National Park in Thailand was closed from 25 March for the first time since it opened, 58 years ago. Several highways going through this park were closed as well. This action has caused a recovery among wild animals and natural resources. The Thai government was inspired by it and planned to close the national park for three months each year, in order to give its nature a break.

Like the Thai government, permaculture illustrator Brenna Quinlan has also seen COVID-19 as a chance to stop consuming the nature too much. She posted a painting online in order to activate people to move forward to a better future.

Khao Khiao National Park posted photos of wild animals wandering on the road since the park has been closed.

However, not everyone has faith in the “better future”.

“Everytime we saw the clearer river, my conversation with my friend would be how long it will last.” Said Beth.

As the Prime Minister of the UK announced that UK has past the peak, the government has made a series of adjustments to ease the former restrictions. “Several restaurants are opened up again, and there were already litter back on the streets,” said Beth, “honestly, I feel like people are almost rushing for the consumerism again.”

Obviously, COVID-19 has put us into a circumstance we have never been before. The experts believe respecting wildlife and their living environment can prevent further outbreaks.

“We are intimately interconnected with nature,” said Inger Anderson, “and as we hurtle towards a population of 10 billion people on this planet, we need to go into this future armed with nature as our strongest ally.”

Sounds of nature to enjoy at home

Beth said she was grateful to live close to the park so that she could enjoy the beautiful view at any time. But not everyone is lucky as her. Don’t worry. Here are some sounds of nature you can enjoy at home by clicking on the photos.