The Pandemic from the Eyes of the Wild

The Janata Curfew announced by Prime Minister Shri. Narendra Modi, on the 22nd of March 2020, and the subsequent 21-day lockdown, signaled the entry of the notorious Coronavirus amidst us and sealed the deal for India being included in its “hitlist”. And thus, all Indians, whether overjoyed at finally getting a breather, or devastated due to the cancellation of their annual Bali trip, were thrust into house-arrest. And there we’ve stayed, almost 4 months on. An apparent source of joy to not just Indians, but to the whole population of the world during this dark phase of its history, was the “Return of The Wildlife”.

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Yes, I am talking about all the wildlife sightings around the world. Of dolphins coming back to the coast of Italy. Of otters freely strolling around in empty city-streets in Singapore and even raiding an expensive spa (take that, capitalism!). Of ducks and deer, bearing an air of confusion as they wandered through empty roads and gullies in India, bereft of humans. Everyone rejoiced at the excellent comeback of Nature and thought that this pandemic was unwittingly going to be responsible for ending all troubles for planet Earth. That now climate change existed no more, and that mankind would come back to its roots and embrace wilderness with open arms. The indomitable spirit of Homo sapiens never fails, and we do manage to find silver linings in the darkest of clouds! But is the supposed comeback of Mother Nature truly a resurrection of our long-ditched symbiotic relationship with her?

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While it is true that wildlife sightings have significantly increased during this four-month period, and that the global carbon emissions have significantly gone down, the fact remains that wildlife is still in a precarious position. Climate change has been driving the rapid declination, and in some cases, extinction, of a vast number of species, for more than 100 years now. Can a severe lockdown such as the one currently implemented throughout the world, mitigate its effects substantially? Unfortunately, no. Climate change is going to be experienced by our planet for many decades to come, and data shows that even with a complete cut-down on carbon emissions, we’ll still be dealing with its consequences. The evidence for this comes from the fact, that the months of April and May of 2020 were recorded to be the hottest till date, even though global activity was close to nil during this time. And this upward trend is going to continue. So, what does this mean for wildlife?

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Although we colloquially refer to isolated animal and plant species as ‘wildlife’, it in its true sense, refers to the entire ecosystem in which these organisms are contained. So, climate change is not just affecting targeted animal and plant species, it is also detrimental for entire ecosystems, whose existence depends on extremely fragile inter-relationships among varied species. A perfect example is that of the bumblebee. For the last 100 years, bumblebee data collected shows that this species has completely disappeared from regions experiencing sudden spikes in temperature. This is referred to as “climate chaos”, and it is also affecting the migration and colonization of new areas by these species.

But why should we care?

Of course, we should! These amazing creatures help in the pollination of hundreds of crop plants and thus help propagate our race! But we’re talking about species on which substantial research has been done in the past decades. What about the ones we have little to no knowledge on till date? Like Mysticellus franki, the recently discovered elusive and mysterious amphibian which appears for just 4 days near roadside puddles in Kerala, and then disappears! Thus, even though the current reduction in global activity may seem like a breather for us humans, it appears to have very little impact on the ecosystems already in danger of extermination. In fact, experts estimate that due to the looming economic hurdles humans may have to face in the imminent future due to the Covid-19 pandemic, endangered species will be at a higher risk of poaching.

Evidence for this is already present, as the number of animals killed has increased more than double fold in the last few months in the major wildlife reserves and sanctuaries, despite efforts by law enforcement personnel to control the situation. Many non-endangered species, such as ungulates and small mammals, are also being hunted indiscriminately for their meat to meet the dietary needs of rural communities in Asia and Africa now.

The current public outcry to ban wet markets and bushmeat trade, after the outbreak of Covid-19, has so far received a lukewarm response from the governments of different countries. However, the issue of climate change and wildlife conservation goes beyond pandemics, lockdowns and ‘zoonotic diseases’ (we’ve heard that one a lot, for sure!). We care now, because our own lives are at risk. But they will always be, if we continue neglecting wildlife, and further our own motives to control this planet, instead of co-inhabiting it.

We are the dwellers of this planet for a limited time, just like all the other beings we are surrounded by. Being “conscious, intellectual and thinking” animals, it makes it even more important for us to understand the world we live in, and what our relationship with it is.

~Is it one of Co-existence, or No-existence?~

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Luminaa Anandh
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