Environment

Urban wildlife spotting during COVID 19 lockdown

Small Indian Civet

Small Indian Civet   | Photo Credit: Dr.Abhilash.AK

While wildlife experts caution against fake news, the lockdown has certainly had a positive impact on urban wildlife. Now, birders take on a balcony safari as Bird Count India commences a 21-day lockdown birding challenge

A civet cat that slunk along a silent street in Meppayur in Kozhikode district a few days ago created a stir on social media. The video of the animal moving languorously through an otherwise crowded street junction was shared multiple times with a message that urban wildlife has started venturing out during the lockdown.

Some even called it the “critically endangered Malabar civet”, a species whose existence is still in question. As the video trends on social media, wildlife experts point out that the description accompanying the clip is incorrect. “First, the animal in the video is the Small Indian Civet, not the Malabar Civet. Also, the lockdown or the virus outbreak have nothing to do with the sick animal having strayed out into the open,” says Sandeep Das, research scholar at the Kerala Forest Research Institute and a research fellow at the Zoological Society of London.

The Small Indian Civet, which is commonly found in rural areas, is a nocturnal and shy animal that does not venture out in broad daylight. “The animal which was roaming the streets during the day was in distress and died soon after officials from the Forest Department rescued it,” he says.

21-day birding challenge
  • Meanwhile, Bird Count India has commenced a 21-day lockdown birding challenge. Over 2,000 bird watchers from across Kerala will observe birds from their balconies or front/backyards of their homes for 15 days to one-month and enter their findings on the eBird platform. Birders from all over India are participating in the challenge, observing birds from their respective homes. “Documentation is happening in a systematic way,” says Nameer. Entries are recorded between 4 am to 6 am and 6 am to 9 am; then from 4 pm to 7 pm and 7 pm to 10 pm. Entries can be listed after 15 minutes of observation.
  • “The inputs will be analysed thoroughly at the end of the challenge and it may reveal some interesting trend in bird behaviour,” he adds.

Social media and misinformation are not strange bedfellows, but the COVID-19 crisis has just led to a profusion of such fanciful ideas, says Nameer PO, professor of wildlife, Kerala Agricultural University. The National Geographic described fake news about wild animals taking over human territory “as contagious as the virus itself”.

News of wild elephants parading through Wayanad town, dolphins by the Mumbai sea shore and peacocks strutting about through backyards, spreading their glorious feathers are all being attributed to the COVID-19 lockdown. It may be true that since fishing activity has stopped totally, dolphins do come closer to the shore. Peacocks usually exist in hot, dry areas and now that people spend their whole days and nights indoors, they are free to roam.

Another image of deer lazing on a road side went viral, and it was being circulated as a view of the Coimbatore-Ooty Road. Wildlife experts clarify that deer in the picture is the Wild Sika deer, found in Japan, which look very much like our spotted deer.

Positive impact

“The lockdown would definitely have impacted the urban wildlife. All of a sudden, noise pollution has reduced, air quality has improved and traffic has practically come to a standstill. This change would certainly have impacted them in a positive way. However, it is too early to arrive at conclusions without having studied animal behaviour in detail,” says Sandeep.

Urban wildlife is a broad term that includes animals such as the Small Indian Civet, mongoose, jackal, jungle cat, toddy cat, (Asian Palm Civet), squirrel in addition to a number of amphibians, reptiles and birds, which have learned to coexist with humans.

“In all likelihood, it is just that people didn’t have time to observe all these creatures that co-existed with us before,” says Nameer. “Now that people find themselves with a lot of time on hand, they are looking at these creatures with new found interest.”

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Printable version | Jun 2, 2020 9:27:06 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/covid-19-lockdown-not-all-news-of-urban-wildlife-spotting-is-factual/article31228052.ece

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