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Extensive photo survey offers insights into wild animal behavior during pandemic lockdowns | CBC News

A major survey analyzing animal behavior during COVID-19 lockdowns has provided new insights into how humans can coexist better with their wild counterparts.

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

The study, published on Monday in Natural ecology and evolutionIt involved 120 researchers worldwide and 5,000 camera traps that take pictures when triggered by the movement of wild animals.

It was led by wildlife biologist and University of British Columbia associate professor Cole Burton. He said the research was spurred by the idea that animal activity could increase as human activity declined due to COVID-19 restrictions.

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

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

“And we thought, hey, we have a lot of these cameras out in the landscape watching animals before the pandemic hit. We can really try to use this opportunity to see if their behavior has changed and how they have changed while people have been in lockdown.”

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For example, a study published in July 2023 in the journal Science showed that when human mobility was restricted by lockdown measures, wildlife soon took notice – moving closer to roads and moving more freely across the landscape.

While that survey was primarily about how animals behaved when people left urban spaces and streets, Burton’s work focused on natural areas and parks that, in some cases, saw increased human presence during the peak of COVID-19 restrictions was seen, particularly in places close to larger urban areas, where people were looking 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 photo taken with a camera trap of a lynx in Cathedral Provincial Park, British Columbia. (Cole Burton/UBC WildCo)

“We kind of assumed that there would be fewer people in all of these areas and the number of animals might increase because they would be relieved of the stress of being around people,” Burton said.

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

“So we had a lot of variation in what people were doing, and then we mapped out what the animals were doing.”

A black-tailed rabbit cam captured in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, Arizona.
A black-tailed rabbit at the McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Arizona. (Snapshot USA)

That also shows some big differences, he said. Predators like wolves or wolverines, which tend to stay away from humans, have “completely disappeared” from some of the “busier landscapes,” Burton said, as more people moved to those areas.

Conversely, some prey animals such as deer, elk, and elk actually increased their activity as more people moved in, possibly due to reductions in predation.

Another observation Burton made is that there appears to be an increase in animals going out at night in response to higher numbers of people going out during the day.

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

“It seemed to be some sort of coping mechanism where they wanted to take advantage of the environment where people were, but they didn’t want to have face-to-face encounters, so they used it more at night.”

He said the results of their study would be useful, given the post-pandemic increase in outdoor recreation, for understanding how wildlife responds to human activity and for developing conservation plans, including the possibility of setting “quiet times” for specific locations.

“To help the animals there, we may need to think about ensuring they have safe passage on busy roads at night, or limiting the amount of nighttime human activity in some of these areas.”

Additional photos used in the study can be found below:

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