What can we learn from COVID-19’s effects on wildlife and hunting?
After being locked up inside for weeks now, many may be wondering what the origin is of the situation we’re in, as this virus outbreak likely arose from a wildlife management problem.
Scientists, by and large, believe the virus originated in bats before being transmitted to humans. These infected bats were believed to have been sold at a wet market in Wuhan, China. However, no one currently knows for certain so all we can do is speculate.
Since then, our lives have been completely changed and the world won’t be the same anymore.
As COVID-19 is affecting people and economies worldwide, you may wonder what kind of impact this has on hunting and wildlife.
Is there something we can do about this?
And more importantly, what can we learn from this situation?
Impact of COVID-19 on hunting
Due to the pandemic in some countries hunting has been stopped or reduced drastically. Alaska, for example, has cancelled bear hunts nationwide. Also, fishing activities have been reduced or stopped in numerous places across the USA.
Unfortunately, many people who are dependent on hunting are now jobless or stuck in their homes.
This, of course, means there has been a huge impact on the economy as well. Estates, lands and game management units that manage their hunting activities based on hunting tourism (particularly those that depend greatly on it) are in serious trouble as the towns are in lockdown, borders are closed and hunters are ordered to stay home.
Additionally, game bird breeders don’t know if they will be able to sell their birds for the next season - despite the uncertainty they have been investing time and money.
Impact of COVID-19 on wildlife
With the lockdown, human activity has either slowed down or in lots of cases, stopped completely. This has resulted in less seismic activity, less air pollution, and less water pollution.
Cities and their surrounding areas are less noisy and cleaner than ever. Even the oceans are quieter, which has resulted in a positive impact on nature. Since the stress levels of animals go down, this increases their reproductive success as well.
Urban areas are also quieter, which has encouraged the animals to wander into cities.
In Europe, wild boars have descended from the hills around the Catalan city of Barcelona, while ducks have been seen in central Paris. In the Mediterranean, dolphins have reappeared in several ports. And seals are sunbathing literally outside my colleague, Alan’s front door (true story).
Because the news is full of such information, you might think that animals are thriving in this situation, but this is not entirely true.
In the case that the pandemic continues for a prolonged time and hunters do not harvest an adequate number, certain species will likely cause a lot of damage to agriculture or forested areas.
However, not only animals are looking for food. In Africa, there has been an increase in rhino poaching as a result of the shutdown of tourism.
“The lack of tourists as well as the guides and guards that accompany them means that fewer people are around to monitor wildlife, increasing the vulnerability of some species to poachers. The loss in tourism revenue has also led to lay-offs and a downturn in the economy.”
Therefore, local people are forced to go out and find food after they have run out of options to feed their families. This puts certain protected species in danger that are already at the brink of extinction.
Impact of nature on COVID-19
“As the global wildlife trade persists and development projects expand deeper into tropical forests, humans are increasing their exposure to wild animals — and the diseases the animals may carry.” - Lee Hannah (senior climate change scientist at Conservation International)
Deforestation, for example, is one of the main causes of virus outbreaks. The more we move into the habitat of animals and destroy them, the more we are exposed to animals who are carriers of such diseases.
In such conditions, diseases bounce back and forth between wildlife populations and humans.
In addition, humans have traded diseases with wildlife for as long as people have had domesticated animals.
In fact, the majority of human-existing diseases originated from animals:
- the flu comes from pigs and birds
- tuberculosis originated in cattle
- Ebola comes from chimpanzees or bats
Biodiversity is also a very important aspect. It serves as a safety net. Nature functions similar to the human body. When it is healthy, which means a diverse amount of species and a good amount of space for the populations, it can withstand diseases.
And when it is unhealthy the risk of the spreading of diseases becomes more likely. Such as the actual situation we are facing now with the Coronavirus.
We must take care of nature in order to take care of ourselves. We must manage wildlife to keep balance and this cannot be done without properly planned and carried out wildlife management activities, including hunting.
By protecting nature, conserving and managing populations, we prevent the likelihood of pandemics or even another COVID-19. Governments can implement protected areas, like national parks, community conservancies and indigenous-managed conservation areas.
After this is over...
To be honest, we never have been in such a situation and we don’t know what will happen next. Whether the coronavirus is a stand-alone event or a catastrophic tipping point, it is clear that we need to reconsider our connection to nature and change our ways after the pandemic.
To prevent epidemics like COVID-19, we need to take greater care of our natural world. And more importantly, we need to invest more in science, education and developing the right methods to detect these outbreaks much earlier.
Under current conditions, more than 1 million species are at risk of extinction due to human activities. We have to educate the wider public about how to consume meat, particularly wild animals. The current situation stresses even more that major goals and actions need to be taken to preserve our planet and with that our own species’ existence.
We need to be more responsible, more informed and educated, and more conscious as the gardeners of the wild. This requires accurate, planned and professional wildlife management. Where the goal is accurate wildlife management and the financial benefit is the reward and not the opposite.
Trusting (wildlife) scientists more than politicians is not a bad way to start.