Voices for the Voiceless: COVID-19’s Impact on Animals in the Wilderness, Captivity, Farms and Homes
Written by Sandra Varier and Jessica Song
As Covid-19 made its way throughout Canada, animals from all sorts of backgrounds were profoundly affected. The impact of Covid-19 stretched from wildlife conservations to your everyday household pet, reaching countless creatures across the nation.
In the initial stages of the preparation against the coronavirus, feelings of uncertainty blanketed the future wildlife and domestic animals — zoos and aquariums shut down, wildlife sightings spiked, and scientists worked to understand whether your everyday pet could be infected with Covid-19.
Since these early stages, much change has taken place, whether it be provinces reopening, or emerging new research. In this article, Human Nature Canada takes an in-depth, fact-based examination of the impacts of Covid-19 on wildlife, animals in captivity, and domestic pets.
Animals in the Wild
A butterfly lands on the ground by medical staff wearing protective equipment. (Sergey Dolzhenko)
With people forced to stay inside their homes, wild animals have more freedom. All around the world animals are roaming normally busy streets and roads without fear. In certain areas animals are even helping themselves to the food and resources that are currently being untouched.
Kashmir goats in Britain were found running freely at an empty resort, happily frolicking throughout the area. In Barcelona wild boars were strolling through empty streets together. All over the world animals have the freedom to roam these empty spaces without our disruption.
Marine life is free as well, especially with the amount of plastic showing up in the sea decreasing, due to the lack of people outside. Turtles have been seen to be coming back to shore more often, as shorelines are empty right now. Whales have been seen swimming to Mediterranean shipping lanes, which would usually be packed with ships, packages, and people. In Venice, canal waters are starting to clear up, and with that dolphins have been showing up as well.
Unfortunately, although this pandemic can be beneficial to the wildlife, it can be equally bad. With the pandemic being so easy to catch, animals do have the risk of catching it. Even though animals in the wild are less likely to catch it from humans, as they don’t have as much contact as zoo animals do, they still have the risk.
Some animals in the wild can get their own food, while others depend on residents to do so. In Thailand monkeys are enjoying walking through the empty streets, but as tourists and residents tend to feed them, they are at a risk of malnourishment. A similar situation is in Japan, where deer depend on people to share their food with them, but due to the quiet trails, they are hungry.
Animals in Captivity
A raccoon peeks out at Tropiquaria Zoo. (PA Media)
COVID-19 has left zoos and aquariums empty and quiet, with animals stuck in captivity. Due to the risk of catching the virus and the cost of paying workers, many zoo workers across the world have been laid off. Zoos and other national parks are looking for financial help, as providing for all the animals costs up to millions of dollars per year. Laying off these workers means there are less to care for the large number of animals.
The question for whether animals in captivity would be able to catch this disease has been going around for months. Unfortunately, that was proven to be true when Tigers in the Bronx Zoo were tested positive for COVID-19. This becomes a risk for the workers and the other animals contained in the building, as there is nowhere else to take them.
In other areas, animals in captivity are very happy with the emptiness. In India, foxes and hippos in captivity are running around in their quiet homes. They’ve been seen being overall more happy and communicative with each other.
Zoo workers fear animals may deal with separation anxiety with the staff that care for them, or not being used to crowds coming over every day. In Japan, eels are forgetting what it’s like to be near people. The eels are shying away and hiding away from staff. To prevent this in certain areas staff are taking the animals out of their enclosures to roam the empty buildings and see other animals and staff.
A dog visits the veterinarian. (Unsplash)
In December 2019, at the very beginning of COVID-19’s discovery, scientists were only just starting to analyze the coronavirus and its implications. Unfortunately, the initial uncertainty led to many panicking over whether their farm animals or pets could transmit the virus, resulting in many unnecessary killings — in early March, for example, veterinarians in Sydney, Australia, reported paranoid pet owners asking for their pet to be euthanized.
"We didn't put any of the pets down but instead consulted with them and explained there is no evidence the virus is in the Australian dog population and no evidence that dogs can give it back to people." — Dr. Sam Kovac, Southern Cross Veterinary owner.
The World Health Organization has been swift to establish that “there is no evidence these animals can transmit the disease to humans and spread COVID-19.” The WHO instead recommends that pet owners or those infected with the virus limit contact with animals on top of implementing basic hygiene measures.
The impacts of COVID-19 on domesticated animals goes far beyond hysterical pet owners — as many slaughterhouses and meat-packing plants have been forced to shut down due to outbreaks, millions of animal lives have paid the price.
In the United States, farmers have been forced to “depopulate” their animals, with the problem being that it costs more to keep them than to kill them. John Tyson, chairman of Tyson Foods, one of America’s largest meat producers, explains the reason for this:
Farmers across the nation simply will not have anywhere to sell their livestock to be processed, when they could have fed the nation. Millions of animals – chickens, pigs and cattle – will be depopulated because of the closure of our processing facilities. The food supply chain is breaking.
Given that so many slaughterhouses have closed down, farmers have nowhere to sell their livestock, creating a backlog as they are left with more animals they can afford to feed. Thus, many farmers across the United States, and even some in Canada, have turned to killing as the least cost-worthy solution.
Already, two million animals have been culled on farms, with those numbers expected to rise in the future. Culling methods included foaming — covering hens’ airways with foam so that they die of suffocation — and ventilation shutdown. Ventilation shutdown, the cruelest and cheapest option, entails shutting down chicken house ventilation systems, resulting in overheating and eventual death by organ failure.
While it is undeniable that COVID-19’s effects and implications have reached every sector in the world, few have addressed its impacts on our animals and wildlife. Examining the research and case studies from around the world, we bring to light the good, the bad, and the ugly of how COVID-19 has affected animals.
While on one end, we see positive results such as the wildlife returning in cities where air pollution has dropped, we must also recognize the darker end, where millions of farm animals are culled in response to the weakening economy.
Ultimately, factually-derived understanding and awareness are key to creating dialogue that can address our system’s many issues. As COVID-19 creates rippling changes in the local environment, conservations, farms, and homes, we must act accordingly and support those working to create a better world for all creatures great and small.
Wild horses gather in the plains. (Unsplash)