Nature’s comeback? No, the coronavirus pandemic threatens the world’s wildlife



There have not been many bright spots in the coronavirus pandemic, but one has been the apparent return of nature as the frantic pace of modern life has slowed. We’ve seen fish-eating birds return to the clear waters of Venice, wild boar roaming the streets of Bergamo, and of course the feral mountain goats of Llandudno.

In Britain, wildlife seems set for a bountiful spring and summer. Fewer cars on the road means less roadkill, and many birds and voles will be spared as owners decide to keep their cats indoors. In towns and cities, wildflowers will surely flourish as councils realise that mowing their parks and verges is somewhat less than essential. Nature, it seems, is making a comeback.

Unfortunately, this is but a partial picture, and one that is limited to the minority world of industrialised nations. Most of the world’s biodiversity is found in the low-income countries and emerging economies of the Global South, and in such places the economic impacts of the pandemic are likely to be devastating for the natural world.

Of course the coronavirus pandemic is an even greater threat to livelihoods than climate change, at least in the short term. Following the last financial crisis, in 2008, unemployed workers in Cameroon turned to poaching and deforestation in a desperate attempt to maintain their income, and a similar story will now be unfolding worldwide.

In India, millions of migrant workers have lost their jobs in cities and returned to their family villages, a mass movement of people not seen since partition in 1947. A similar thing is happening in Madagascar too, as it is throughout Africa and probably much of the tropics. Nobody knows what impacts this unprecedented rural exodus will have, but it is clear that many more people will be finding themselves poorer, hungrier, and much closer to exploitable wildlife than they were a few weeks ago.


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