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Hundreds of photos show animal behavior during COVID-19 lockdowns

A massive survey analyzing animal behavior during COVID-19 lockdowns has provided new insight into how humans can better co-exist with their wild counterparts.

It also provided some great photos of bison, grizzlies, baby moose and other animals in their natural habitats.

The study, published Monday in Nature Ecology and Evolutioninvolved 120 researchers worldwide and 5,000 camera traps that took pictures when triggered by the movement of wild animals.

It was led by wildlife biologist and University of British Columbia associate professor Cole Burton, who said the research was spurred on by the notion that as human activity was reduced due to COVID-19 restrictions, animal activity might increase.

A wolverine along a hiking trail during closure of the popular Joffre Lakes Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada.
A wolverine along a hiking trail during the closure of British Columbia’s popular Joffre Lakes Provincial Park. (Cole Burton/UBC WildCo)

“We all started to hear some of these emerging stories of, you know, animals running in the streets, or dolphins swimming up canals,” Burton said in an interview with CBC News.

“And we thought, hey, we’ve got a lot of these cameras out on the landscape studying animals before the pandemic hit, we can really try to use this opportunity to see if their behaviors changed and how they changed while people were undergoing lockdowns .”

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A study published in the journal Science in July 2023, for example, indicated that when human mobility was constrained by lockdown measures, wildlife soon took notice — moving closer to roads and moving more freely across the landscape.

While that survey was largely about how animals behaved when humans moved out of urban spaces and roadways, Burton’s work focused on natural areas and parks, which in some cases saw an increased presence of people during the peak of COVID-19 restrictions, especially places close to larger urban areas where people look for ways to socialize and get out of the house.

A camera trap photo of a lynx in Cathedral Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada.
A camera-trap photo of a lynx in BC’s Cathedral Provincial Park. (Cole Burton/UBC WildCo)

“We sort of went in with this notion that, you know, all these areas would have less people and animals might increase because they were released from that kind of stress of being around people,” Burton said.

“But what we found in the cameras was that there was a huge variation … some places actually saw a lot of human activity, even an increase in activity, whereas others like provincial parks were completely closed for a period of time so they saw big reductions in people.

“So we had this large variation of what people were doing and then we mapped on what the animals were doing.”

A black-tailed jackrabbit camera trapped in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, Arizona.
A black-tailed jackrabbit in Arizona’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve. (USA Snapshot)

That, too, revealed some big variations, he said. Predators, such as wolves or wolverines, that tend to steer clear of humans “dropped out entirely” of some of the “busier landscapes,” Burton said, as more people moved into those spaces.

Conversely, some prey animals, such as deer and moose and elk, actually increased their activity as more people moved in, possibly because of the reduction in predators.

Another observation Burton made was that there seemed to be an increase in animals coming out at night as a response to a higher number of humans out during the day.

A bobcat walking a trail at night in Golden Ears Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada.
A bobcat walking a trail at night in Golden Ears Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada. (Cole Burton/UBC WildCo)

“That seemed to be a kind of coping mechanism where, yes, they wanted to use the environment where people were, but they didn’t want to have direct encounters, so they were using it more at night.”

He said the findings of their study are useful amid a surge in outdoor recreation post-pandemic to understand how wildlife responds to human activity and to develop conservation plans, including the possibility of setting “quiet hours” for certain spaces.

“To help animals there, we might need to think about making sure they have safe passage over busy roads at night or limiting the amount of nighttime human activities in some of these areas.”

See more photos used in the study below:

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