Special Report

Animals Roaming Freely While Humans Are in Lockdown

As people shelter in place around the world to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, reports have surfaced about animals appearing in areas where they are not usually seen. Sea lions are sunning themselves in parking lots in Argentina; jaguars are prowling city streets in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula; monkeys are brawling over food in Thailand; and goats are running roughshod in a Welsh village.

24/7 Tempo has compiled a list of animals making an appearance in urban areas while humans are in lockdown. We reviewed media reports to create our list and also analyzed data from the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources’ red list to determine the threatened status of animals that are included in the story.

Click here to see animals making an appearance while humans are in lockdown

Ever since early March, when much of the world began self-isolating to try and halt the spread of the coronavirus, there have been many reports on traditional and social media about animals “reclaiming” nature. An analysis by the Corona Virus Facts Alliance — led by journalism research organization Poynter Institute — found that the misinformation about animals worldwide has been increasing since early January. 

Many of these reports, such as dolphins appearing in the now-clear canals of Venice, llamas blocking a road in Ecuador, or elephants passed out in a field in China from drinking too much corn wine, have since been debunked.

But the belief that animals are “reclaiming” environs temporarily abandoned by humans might be more a yearning of homebound people grasping for hope during a bleak period. With much more time on their hands, people are observing nature more and perhaps seeing animals they might have ignored before the pandemic forced a shutdown. Susan Clayton, Whitmore-Williams Professor of Psychology and chair of Environmental Studies at the College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio, believes that might be the case. 

“I’ve seen it suggested that the animals are no more present than they were pre-pandemic, but we just notice them more,” said Clayton in email. “However, it would not surprise me if they feel free to return to areas that used to be too busy for them to feel comfortable. The interesting thing to me is that people seem to want to believe it. Watching nature is associated with positive emotions and tends to be a way to reduce stress.”