The Covid-19 pandemic is the greatest challenge of the world after the World War II. The UN Secretary General also stated in a press conference that there has been no such crisis in the last 75 years. Beyond the health crisis, it is also affecting the economy, society, politics and environment.
The impact of the pandemic on the environment is being held up in some cases as positive. Nature has shown a reclamation tendency all over the world since more than half of the world's population is being forced to take shelter at home. We have seen dolphins in a viral video playing in the sea near Cox's Bazar. Have they come back since the human species are locked in their homes and no other species are disturbing them?
There are many such examples of living things getting new life during this pandemic. ABC news has published some pictures showing mountain goats in Wales, roe deer in Poland and Slovakia roaming freely in city streets, leaving behind their native mountains. BBC news has shown a herd of 30 dugongs swimming in the Hat Chao Mai National Park in Thailand. Dugong, a victims of over fishing and pollution, is classed as vulnerable species.
Leatherback turtles, the world's largest sea turtles, are also listed as vulnerable species by IUCN. Their spawning areas were destroyed by tourists and local residents. But now human-free beaches are accommodating the largest number of nests in two decades.
It's interesting that as the Covid-19 pandemic forces humans back to their homes, wildlife seems to be coming back to reclaim their share of space. Restrictions on human movement might have encouraged wildlife to roam the city streets. Industrial shut down, restrictions on airways and waterways might also have reduced the carbon emission and pollution to bring enthusiasm in wildlife.
There is an opposite picture that we are also see during this time.
The Independent recently reported the killing of at least 11 rhinos in South Africa and at least six in Botswana by illegal hunters taking the advantage of tourist-free parks or lockdown. Five jaguars, one puma and one ocelot were reportedly poached in Colombia. Poaching of tigers and deer have also been reported.
Brazil's space research agency has confirmed the increase of deforestation in Amazon by 30 percent in March and 64 percent in April, compared to the same month of the last year. Lack of monitoring is the main reason. In March, the concerned enforcement agencies downsized their monitoring manpower due to the health risk caused by covid-19. Increase in poaching, illegal logging has also been reported from Cambodia, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Madagascar and Venezuela.
Coronavirus has caused people to lose their jobs in many cities overnight. Many of these people migrated to rural areas. Having no other option, people in rural areas may depend on illegal poaching of wild animals, logging and other activities for their living that are harmful to nature.
Wildlife conservation sites are now closed. Law enforcers have been diverted to some Covid-19-related duties. These issues have made poaching easier and jobless people are posing a threat to nature. So the pandemic may have some positive effects on nature, but negative impacts are also overwhelming.
Even in the case of positive effects, we need to think how positive they really are.
The roaming of deer, mountain goats or other wild animals in city streets may be a pleasant sight for city dwellers and they may be tempted to term it a resurgence of nature. But what is the real picture behind it? Forests are the home to most of the wild animals. Is it natural to leave your home and roam the city streets for food? Shouldn't we think about what it really indicates rather than celebrate the perceived resurgence of nature?
Roaming in the cities for food may indicate that the forests can no more sustain some animals and species. Destruction of forests and land use changes are affecting biodiversity and interrupting ecosystem services. Such disturbances cause reduction in some organisms and growth of others resulting in imbalance in natural interaction among species. Less biodiversity will also make plants and animals, including humans, vulnerable to pests and diseases.
Both food and health security are critical to biodiversity.
Since we are a part of the ecosystem, our health, food security as well as livelihoods are dependent on health of wildlife, health of nature.
We must find out nature-friendly ways of resource utilisation for safeguarding biodiversity.
The author is JDS Scholar and a civil servant. He can be reached at [email protected]