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AFP
March 30, 2020

Nature takes back world’s empty city streets

World

AFP
March 30, 2020

PARIS: As humans retreat into their homes as more and more countries go under coronavirus lockdown, wild animals are slipping cover to explore the empty streets of some of our biggest cities.

Wild boar have descended from the hills around Barcelona while sika deer are nosing their way around the deserted metro stations of Nara, Japan. Indian social media has gone wild about footage of a stag scampering through Dehradun, the capital of the northern state of Uttarakhand.

Gangs of wild turkeys have been strutting the streets of Oakland, California, while a puma turned up in the centre of the Chilean capital Santiago, which is under curfew. "This is the habitat they once had and that we've taken away from them," said Marcelo Giagnoni, the head of Chile's agricultural and livestock service that helped police capture the curious big cat.

While sightings of dolphins in Venice's canals turned out to be fanciful, they have been popping up in ports elsewhere in the Mediterranean as emboldened wildlife takes "free rein to wander our cities and towns", said Romain Julliard, head of research at the French Natural History Museum.

He told AFP that foxes were at the vanguard of the new urban explorers. "They change their behaviour very quickly. When a place becomes quiet, they´re straight in there."

Animals and birds that normally live in urban parks, like sparrows and pigeons are also more likely to venture beyond their usual territories, Julliard said, "freeing a space for other animals".

While the dawn and dusk choruses have been bringing comfort to many quarantined city dwellers, the museum´s acoustics specialist Jerome Sueur said that doesn´t mean there are more urban birds than before.

It is more that with reduced traffic noise we can hear them better. Some, however, "stop singing when there is noise, so now they are letting themselves go." "Animals are shaking off human noise pollution," Sueur said. And the timing could not have been better time as they embark on their mating season.

With the hunting season suspended in several European countries, this promises to be a spring and possibly a summer of love for the animal kingdom. It is certainly great news for species like the common toad and the spotted salamander. The amorous amphibians are being spared from being "crushed crossing busy roads" in their haste to find a mate, said Jean-Noel Rieffel, of the French biodiversity office (OFB).

With few dog walkers to disturb them, baby fawns are also getting an idyllic start to life while birds like Mediterranean gulls who nest along the sandy banks of rivers are being left undisturbed. In the Calanques National Park overlooking the Mediterranean near France´s second city of Marseille, wildlife "is reclaiming its natural habitat with surprising speed", said the park´s president, Didier Reault.

With walkers and boating banned, "the puffins who used to stay on the islets in the highest protected areas are not gathering on the sea," he said.

And it is the same for plants. Wild orchids -- which are supposed to be protected -- are often picked by walkers when they blossom in late April and May, said Rieffel. This year they will be spared that fate.