Kangaroo Hops Through Empty Adelaide Streets Amid COVID-19 Lockdown. (AP)Since humans have, in many places, been confined to their quarters, leaving streets and sidewalks relatively empty, the internet has enthusiastically documented who has taken their place. As humans occupy city streets less, animals occupy them more. Sometimes the documentation has been overenthusiastic: the water in Venetian canals is clearer than usual, but, despite some widely viewed photographs, no dolphins have come to live in it. There is plenty of more persuasive evidence, however. Animals with established urban presences, including the coyotes of North America, the monkeys of India and Thailand, and the wild boars of Europe, have become bolder and more conspicuous. Animals who have been rare or stealthy presences have emerged into view--at least into the view of observant photographers--and internet metrics suggest that their images of a herd of Kashmiri goats devouring garden flowers in Llandudno (Wales), of a kangaroo hopping through central Adelaide (Australia), and of a puma roaming Santiago (Chile) have wide appeal.

A herd of goats take advantage of quiet streets in Llandudno, north Wales. @AndrewStuart via PA.Big cats are straying to the streets of Santiago, Chile. Photo: F. Castillo, via Rainforest Concern, NZ Herald.Online comments, as well as journalistic analysis of this phenomenon, suggest that it is generally understood as benign, even heartwarming--nature "taking over" to fill the sudden void, or animals "playing" in newly available playgrounds. There are occasional acknowledgments of more problematic motivations, however. For example, animals accustomed to forage in restaurant garbage cans, from rats to bears, now have to range further afield for their food. And it is possible that the underlying message of this apparent reoccupation is still more sobering. It has been widely noted that places that have become too contaminated for human occupation are extremely attractive to other animals. Chernobyl (and Fukushima to a lesser extent) has become a biodiversity hot spot; it now hosts wildlife populations that are more diverse and numerous than those in surrounding areas, as do some Superfund sites in the United States. Wild animals flock to places where we are absent; to them we seem more toxic than industrial waste or nuclear radiation.

Harriet Ritvo