With humans in lockdown, animals are reclaiming their territory

Without having to contend with the all-pervasive presence of humans, wildlife around the world is making an amazing comeback. Although the pandemic is having serious impacts from a human perspective, it’s become clear there have been major benefits for nature that we should heed. With reduced levels of pollution and spaces now empty of humans, animals have been able to move around freely, enjoying the world in a way they have not been able to for a very long time.

Here in South Africa, endangered African penguins are wandering in the deserted streets of Simon's Town: Watch video And in Langebaan, residents were treated to a rare scene with thousands of birds, in numbers never seen before, feeding off sardines in a run extremely close to shore: Watch video filmed by a local resident from Paradise Beach. Elsewhere, critically endangered Gangetic river dolphins are now visible in the Vikramshila Gangetic Dolphin Sanctuary (VGDS) in Bihar while in Brazil, India, Thailand and Florida, endangered sea turtles are making nests and baby turtles are hatching in record numbers.


AFRICAN PENGUINS IN SIMON’S TOWN: With African penguins wandering into the deserted streets of Simon's Town during lockdown, rangers from SANCCOB (Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds) are doing their best to keep the penguins safe by redirecting them back to the colony. While most of South Africa is in lockdown, SANCCOB is involved in the protection of penguins currently breeding on public land beside the African penguin colony at Boulders Beach. Currently it is the peak of its annual egg season. African penguins are only found in South Africa and Namibia and since the turn of the 20th century, 99% of their population has been wiped out. There are many names for the African penguin, including ‘black-footed’ ‘Cape’ and ‘Jackass’ penguin – the latter due to the loud braying sound it makes. The pint-sized penguin is characterized by a band of black feathers across its chest as well as a circle of skin without feathers around its eyes.

THOUSANDS OF BIRDS AT LANGEBAAN: Just over a week into the lockdown, thousands of birds swooped into Langebaan – about 120km north of Cape Town – in numbers never seen before. The footage went viral on Facebook and Twitter. The person who shared the original video said: “I’ve seen the sardine run many, many times but this is unbelievable … right here on our stoep. It’s amazing how, ever since this lockdown happened, the birds have been going crazy.” Vernon Head, former chair of BirdLife South Africa commented on Facebook that most of the birds are Cape Cormorants but there are also Kelp Gull, Hartlaub’s Gull and a few unidentifiable tern species.

RIVER DOLPHINS RE-APPEAR IN THE GANGA: India’s Ganga River is filthy and noisy, with the continual churning up of sediment, cacophonous stretches of cities and industries that dump waste into the water, and the unrelenting din of boats, ships and heavy machinery dredging the riverbed. These noises are a source of huge stress for the Ganga River dolphins (Platanista gangetica) as they affect how the dolphins communicate. These iconic creatures are effectively blind and ‘see with sound’. They produce ultrasonic or high-frequency clicks in the 20- to 160-kilohertz range, and use this echolocation to find food, avoid ships and chart their way around the waters. They also modulate their clicks to talk to each other. Although they were a common sight around 30 years ago, the increase in the level of noise and pollution in the river has pushed them away from their former habitat and they are critically endangered. Now, with a drop in pollution levels and human activity, they are returning to the Ganga.

ENDANGERED TURTLES THRIVING: Sea turtles are among the most endangered species and are seriously threatened by human activities. They are often slaughtered for their eggs, meat, skin, and shells. They’re also victims of habitat destruction and plastic pollution. Fishing gear left in the ocean causes turtles to die of entanglement and, to make matters worse, humans are often intentionally cruel to them killing and abusing them for no reason. However, with beaches the world over now deserted, there are signs that they are beginning to thrive. Photographs taken by government workers in Paulista, Brazil show about 97 tiny Hawksbill turtles making their way down the beach into the Atlantic waves. Paulista is home to four of the five types of turtle found along Brazil’s coastline: the hawksbill, the green sea turtle, the olive ridley turtle and the loggerhead turtle. Elsewhere, leatherback turtles are also doing better than they have in years and in recent weeks, have been found nesting in numbers not seen for decades on beaches from Florida to Thailand. Leatherbacks are the world’s largest sea turtles and are listed as a vulnerable species globally. They need dark, quiet areas to lay their eggs, which are scarce when tourists take over beaches. With beaches across the world now cleared of people and their waste, this vulnerable sea creature – here for millions of years before humans – is getting a desperately needed reprieve.



Life in the time of lockdown: How wildlife is reclaiming its territory
A trio of 'jackass' penguins were caught waddling around the streets of Cape Town during lockdown
Rare Sardine Run Attracts Thousands of Birds to Langebaan
COVID-19 lockdown a blessing for the endangered Gangetic dolphin in Bihar
With decreasing water pollution, dolphins make a comeback
India’s Ganga River dolphins are being shouted down by noisy boats
Coronavirus Lockdown Results in Sea Turtles Laying 60 Million Eggs in India
Endangered sea turtles hatch on Brazil's deserted beaches
Coronavirus lockdown boosts numbers of Thailand's rare sea turtles
Empty Beaches from Lockdown Lead to Huge Spike in Sea Turtle Nests in Florida and Thailand