Nature and Biodiversity

5 ways the coronavirus is affecting animals around the world

A man in a protective suit sprays disinfectant in a tiger enclosure at Alipore zoo amid concerns about the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Kolkata, India, April 7, 2020. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri - RC2KZF9XVRB5

The coronavirus isn't just affecting humans. It's having an impact on wildlife, too. Image: REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri

Josephine Moulds
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COVID-19

This article was updated on 12 May.

  • Poaching of endangered species is on the rise.
  • Experts have called for a ban on the trade of wildlife.
  • A tiger has a confirmed case of coronavirus in New York.
  • Wildlife are roaming free, while humans self-isolate.
  • Millions of baby turtles are hatching on India's empty beaches.

The coronavirus has upended our way of life – but it's also having a dramatic impact on animals across the globe, too, from black rhinos being poached in Botswana to a coughing tiger in New York and emboldened goats on the streets of Wales.

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1. Global wildlife trade is in the spotlight.

The pandemic is thought to have originated at a market selling wild animals in China, throwing a spotlight on the global wildlife trade. The New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society is urging governments to ban live animal markets, and stop illegal trafficking and poaching of wild animals.

The Wildlife Conservation Society is urging an end to wildlife trade. Image: Wildlife Conservation Society

In the wake of the initial outbreak in Wuhan, China introduced a ban on all farming and consumption of live wildlife, which is expected to become law later this year.

There are growing calls for countries around the world to ban “wet markets” – which sell live and dead animals for human consumption – to prevent future pandemics. Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, acting executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, and Jinfeng Zhou, secretary general of the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation, have added their voices to calls for authorities to make the ban on wildlife markets permanent.

2. Poachers are taking advantage of quiet nature reserves.

From Africa to Colombia, there have been reports of a rise in poaching of endangered species as tourists stay away and many park rangers are left out of work.

In Botswana, government workers have been evacuating black rhinos from the Okavango Delta after six of the animals were reported to have been killed in March.

In an statement, the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Tourism said it was "very conscious that poachers may try to take advantage of the lockdown and the lack of movement by tourists in remote areas to carry out their illegal activities".

In Colombia, there's been a spike in the poaching of wild cats including jaguars and pumas, according to wildlife conservation organization Panthera, while in India, there have been reports of a rise in tigers being poached.

Matt Lewis, who leads Conservation International’s work on wildlife trafficking issues in Africa, says: “In Africa, there has been an alarming increase in bushmeat harvest and wildlife trafficking that is directly linked to COVID-19-related lockdowns, decreased food availability and damaged economies as a result of tourism collapses."

3. Zoo animals are getting sick and missing human attention.

The coronavirus is a zoonotic disease, meaning it jumped from animals to humans. Now, it seems to be jumping back.

A tiger at the Bronx Zoo tested positive for the coronavirus. It is thought the tiger, named Nadia, along with six other big cats, were infected by an asymptomatic zoo keeper. The cats have been showing symptoms, including a dry cough, since late March. Paul Calle, the chief vet at the zoo, told Reuters, “This is the first time that any of us know of anywhere in the world that a person infected the animal and the animal got sick.”

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has since reiterated that there is no evidence yet that pets can spread COVID-19 to people or that they might be a source of infection in the US.

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Zoos across the globe have been closed as part of national lockdown and zookeepers say their most intelligent and social animals – including gorillas, otters and meerkats – are missing the attention of humans. Nathan Hawke, from Orana wildlife park in New Zealand, told The Guardian that many rare and endangered animals continued to show up for their daily “meet the public” appointments – despite the fact there is nobody there to watch them.

A zookeeper wearing a protective mask feeds lemurs, as animals are still looked after despite the Bioparco zoo being closed to due to lockdown measures fighting coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Rome, Italy, March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Yara Nardi - RC2ZQF9H72GO
Intelligent zoo animals are missing human attention. Image: REUTERS/Yara Nardi

4. Some zoo animals are making the most of their privacy

Zoo animals’ newfound privacy may have had some unexpected benefits. In Ocean Park in Hong Kong, it is thought that Ying Ying, one of the resident pandas, may be pregnant after 10 years of attempts at natural mating. Due to the coronavirus outbreak, the park has been closed to visitors since late January. Michael Boos, executive director at Ocean Park, said, “The successful natural mating process today is extremely exciting for all of us, as the chance of pregnancy via natural mating is higher than by artificial insemination.”

5. Wildlife is running...wild.

With humans self-isolating in their homes, animals that usually stay away from urban areas now have space to roam. In northern India, a herd of deer was caught on camera walking the streets of Haridwar during the nationwide COVID-19 lockdown.

Also in India, there's been a massive spike in the number of baby Olive Ridley sea turtles, as beaches lie empty of humans. It's thought that around 60 million eggs have been deposited on Indian beaches this year.

Meanwhile, wild boar have been spotted in the centre of Barcelona, Spain.

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In Wales, mountain goats are causing havoc on the streets of Llandudno.

Wild goats are venturing further into town in Wales. Image: Andrew Stuart

While rival gangs of monkeys brawled over food in Lopburi, Thailand.

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Becky Thomas, senior Teaching Fellow in Ecology, Royal Holloway, says there will be winners and losers from this temporary change in human behaviour. In the UK, hedgehogs are enjoying relatively car free roads, but ducks, which rely on food provided by humans, are going hungry.

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