When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March 2020, wildlife ecologist Jason Fisher and his colleagues at the University of Victoria predicted there would be fewer people in the wild and animals would take back their territory .
But setting up cameras in the scenic backcountry forest of Bighorn, Alberta, they found that human activity had actually increased in the area, as adventurers who couldn’t travel overseas flocked to it. in the woods to reconnect with nature during lockdown.
As viewers see in the documentary “Nature’s Big Year,” which airs Friday on “The Nature of Things” on CBC TV and CBC Gem, Fisher and the team of scientists have also discovered coyotes and white-tailed deer roaming further around. the region.
This was not surprising, as these animals generally have a positive association with humans and have proven to thrive when they are around.
What the team didn’t expect was that the wolves have moved their activity from night to day to track their prey, despite the influx of people to the area.
This is important because changes in wolf activity have a cascading effect on wildlife, experts said.
“It’s that great flexibility in wolves that was a really big ‘aha’ moment for us, because it’s not something we’ve seen before,” Fisher said in a phone interview, guessing that the wolves felt that the campers would not harm them.
Toronto-based director-writer-producer Christine Nielsen’s “Nature’s Big Year” features several groups of researchers in Canada and around the world who have seized a unique opportunity to study the human footprint on nature.
This includes an overview of how empty beaches have affected nesting turtles in Florida, how lower UK traffic has reduced hedgehog road deaths and how ozone levels have actually increased in some areas.
Nicola Koper, a conservation biologist at the University of Manitoba, was part of a team that studied how 82 species of birds in North America responded to changes in human activity during the lockdown.
Canadian documentary ‘Nature’s Big Year’ shows how #fauna adapted during the #pandemic. # Covid19
She said they were amazed to find that 80% of these species changed their habitat use during the pandemic.
For example, bald eagles migrated from counties that had fewer blockages to those with the strongest blockages and the least traffic. And some species have increased their presence near roads and airports when movement has declined.
Koper said that while North America’s traffic levels fell during the lockdown period they studied, it wasn’t as much as some might think, suggesting that even a small reduction can have a big impact.
She was also surprised to find that species widely considered to be well adapted to humans have also changed their ways. For example, there were more American robins near airports and roads.
âObviously, they had been moved from these areas before,â Koper said. “We have these really common species that we’ve always assumed to be fine with humans. But in fact, now we know that’s not entirely true.”
Overall, the results suggest that wildlife “are actually much more sensitive to human activity than we previously thought,” Koper added.
Nielsen said she wrote, directed and produced the film during three different waves of COVID in 11 different locations, including five provinces in Canada. For stories that were not in Canada, she conducted remotely by videoconference.
She was surprised to see how “wildlife can adapt so incredibly quickly to changes in human behavior.”
“I think we all intuitively know that if we do something differently, wildlife will respond. But in many cases, wildlife responds overnight.”
In the Bighorn backcountry, grizzly bears have been shown to be much less tolerant of the increase in campers than wolves.
Fisher said the grizzly bears moved from the lower foothills to the mountains where there were fewer people, and showed a strong aversion to roads, something scientists had not seen before COVID.
The results underscore the need to manage our impact as more Canadians flock to nature during the pandemic, he said.
âSuddenly with the lockdown – it’s a really poignant part – we realized, ‘Oh, wow, our tourist footprint is really, really high,'” said Fisher.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on November 9, 2021.