A sika deer crosses a road in Nara, Japan. Free-roaming deer are a part of life in this city but with humans in lockdown, the deer have been roaming in the city's city's residential areas looking for food. (Photo: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images)
Animals may not know why humans are making themselves so scarce.
Lockdowns that have kept millions of people in their homes — and social distancing measures meant to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus — have brought clear skies, quiet streets and tranquil shores.
These are challenging times for humanity. But for many of Earth's other inhabitants, there's a silver lining.
Thanks to the absence of cruise ships, dolphins have returned in greater numbers to the Italian port of Cagliari. And the presence of swans in the canals of Burano — though initially placed incorrectly in Venice proper — sparked a flurry of social media attention, even though swans are often seen in this small island in the greater metro area of Venice.
Animals are not dramatically rebounding in the absence of humans, but they are timidly pushing their boundaries, with sika deer showing up outside their normal habitat in the park in Nara, Japan, wild turkeys showing up in a park in Oakland, California, and orcas venturing farther up Vancouver's Burrell Inlet than they typically do.
And then there were the not-so-timid goats roaming around Llandudno, in northern Wales, helping themselves to the shrubbery:
"If anything, these times may serve as a reminder that animals have always lived in our area," Seth Magle, who directs the Urban Wildlife Institute at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, told The Guardian. "We may not think of our cities as a part of nature, but they are."
Regardless, this kind of reverse habitat-encroachment is comforting.
Nature hates a vacuum
We've seen this kind of animal renaissance before — in the wake of very different catastrophes.
At the site of the former Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant — where a 2011 meltdown forced the evacuation of thousands of people — animals like wild boar, macaques, and Japanese hares are flourishing.
And, more than 30 years after the Chernobyl disaster, Geiger counters still scold furiously at lingering radiation levels in the area — but wildlife have made an unlikely comeback.
It's not all good news for animals
While swans and dolphins in Italy are certainly relishing in the retreat, other animals that have come to rely on humans may actually miss us.
Like the macaques of Lopburi, Thailand. Spending their days loafing around the city's famed Phra Prang Sam Yot monkey temple, these primates have become all-too accustomed to human handouts. But with the coronavirus keeping tourists at bay — and handouts increasingly rare — they've gone all "Gangs of New York" on each other.
You can check out some of the mayhem in the video below:
"The fall in tourist numbers because of COVID-19 may have indeed brought about a shortage of food supply for them," Asmita Sengupta, an ecologist at the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment in India, tells The New York Times.
"Once they get used to being fed by humans, they become habituated to humans and even display hyper-aggression if they are not given food."
On the other hand, the swans of Venice don't mind. Nor the dolphins. And, as more countries ground their citizens, experts suggest animals will take full advantage.
"I've seen what's happened in Venice and we've been thinking about what that means in the UK as well for wildlife," Martin Fowlie, media manager for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, tells Express.
"We are some weeks behind Italy, but I imagine there will be some things that will happen that will have an effect on wildlife and the changes we will see.
"Since World War 2, UK wildlife has been in general decline, there are some species doing better, but on the whole, the majority of species have been doing less well."
But the hushing of cities and towns and countrysides, he adds, may not only benefit animals. Humans too may soon emerge from their homes with a new understanding of their relationship with the natural world. We might even look to preserve that kind of peace.
Editor's note: This story has been updated with new information since it was first published in March 2020.