With less cars on the roads and hardly any people exploring natural landscapes due to the Stay at Home order in California, animals are reclaiming the natural habitats they once had to themselves.

If you’ve wondered why you’re seeing or hearing more wildlife during the day than you normally do, it’s because the animals have less humans to dodge.

“We have to remember that we divide a city not only in space but in time,” said Dr. Eric Strauss, Executive Director of the LMU Center for Urban Resilience. “So many of the animals that we’re seeing during the day were simply waiting for us to leave at night in order to use those areas. And even predators like mountain lions and coyotes that would also historically hunt during the day, there’s been lots of work done here in Southern California that shows how much animals shift their daily patterns of behavior to avoid humans. They don’t have to do that now.” 

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Dr. Strauss said Southern California is a complete ecosystem.

“The animals don’t think about being in or out of a city. They’re trying to solve problems. They’re trying to locate food. They’re trying to find places to spend their time and safe places to reproduce,” he said.

There are several research groups studying coyotes in Griffith Park to see how their movement patterns have changed since people were barred from entering the area.

“We haven’t seen a big change in their spatial behavior yet because remember they have territories and they can’t cross those boundaries,” he said. “But what we are seeing is movement patterns of animals that aren’t bounded by territories in either movement groups and so forth.”

Dr. Strauss referenced a story that came out of Nara, Japan. The city has a population of deer that are used to being fed Shika Senbei crackers by tourists. Now that there aren’t many travelers in Japan due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the deer are wandering the city’s streets in search of a meal.

“They’re used to being fed and they’re hungry, so they’re looking for humans because humans either provide food directly [or] humans will drop and leave [food] for them,” he said. “It reminds us that these natural systems… we are completely interconnected, and the decisions and behaviors that we have, have profound effects.”

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Dr. Strauss says humans are global because of our “hunger for knowledge,” but we need to be informed travelers.

“It’s in our DNA to be global, and with that comes responsibility for animals, knowledge about our food chain… so we can get the benefits without having the risks of these pandemics being a reality,” he said. 

Wednesday, Aprill 22, was Earth Day, and Dr. Strauss reminisced about the first celebration 50 years ago.

“It was almost as complicated and frightening as it is today,” he said. “We had the Vietnam War, we had the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement. The deaths of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were still ringing in our minds, and yet there was the amazing technology of the Apollo Moon Landing.” 

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He said as a young boy, he also remembers “the images of the Cuyahoga River in Ohio catching fire, the Santa Barbara Oil Spill. There’s reasons for us to be positive too, because look what came out of that: The Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency.”

Although he said humans have a “tremendous challenge” ahead of us to beat coronavirus, we’ve solved difficult problems before.

“We just have to want to do it,” he said.

For the time being, Dr. Strauss said now is the perfect time to admire the quietness of our Southern California habitat.

“I would say walk outside your dwelling, be in the yard space that is safe and near you and just look,” he said. “Look at the way that the sunlight passes across the sidewalk at different times of the day. Listen to the birds. It’s quieter in Los Angeles now than it’s ever been in a long time. You can see long distance.”

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