Wildlife’s Silver Lining

Sam Sammons, Conservation Biologist
June 4, 2020

With massive wildfires in Australia and a once in a lifetime pandemic grinding human activity to a halt, I think we can all agree that so far 2020 has been a pretty crazy year.  Although we certainly wish this was not the case, the pandemic has provided us a unique opportunity to study how such a drastic slowdown in human activity has affected our environment.  With many people sheltering in place only leaving their house for the essentials, we’ve observed wildlife expanding their territory and returning to places they haven’t been in some time.  With less people commuting to work, we’ve observed that air quality has improved, noise pollution has decreased, and water clarity around the world has gotten better.  We can use these observations going forward to influence decisions we make to protect our wildlife.  Have you observed any changes to wildlife in your community or backyard?

Oakland Zoo and the Conservation Society of California started participating in an urban wildlife study in the City of Oakland using camera traps about one year ago.  By comparing the data that we collected from April this year to data collected around the same time last year we are able to see how a reduction in human activity affects how wildlife moves throughout our community.

Oakland Zoo has eighteen different locations throughout the City of Oakland where cameras are placed for this study.  Locations were picked based on two transect lines that were drawn from the Upper San Leandro Reservoir to the San Francisco Bay.  Locations include regional parks, golf courses, and residential property.  For the study, cameras are put in place four times a year, once each season, for four weeks at a time.  The same camera locations are used each time to get an accurate database that enables us to track seasonal and yearly changes.

Temporary closures of some locations have prevented us from setting up some of the cameras again this year but with the cameras we were able to set up we can still see a shift in the number and species of animals and humans that are present this year compared to last.

At the camera that is set up near the Arroyo Viejo Creek we’ve seen an increase in the number of woodrats and coyote.  Last year there were more skunks, opossums, and raccoons at this location. Another camera that is located in Knowland Park captured many more photos of coyotes this year compared to last.  Last year this same camera had captured a few photos of coyotes but mostly got images of deer and wild turkey.  Another very interesting trend is that all of the cameras that were set up near park trails had an increase in the number of humans on camera compared to last year.

Being forced to slow down in our daily lives, though not ideal, gives us as humans a chance to appreciate the nature that is around us.  Once this time ends we can make cleaner air, less noise pollution, and clearer water the new normal making it a better Earth for all.

Check out some more images of the wildlife that has persisted during this time below!