KUALA LUMPUR: Who doesn’t like animal movies? Malaysians actually do.
With endless COVID-19 lockdowns, a subset of these have change into social media favourites: Wild animals in city areas.
Such visuals feed into the pandemic mantra of “Look how nature recovers when we humans are out of the picture”. But how true is that?
As National Geographic identified in March 2020, “When we’re feeling stressed, joyous animal footage can be an irresistible salve.”
Reports of swans returning to Venetian canals and elephants getting drunk and passing out in a Chinese tea plantation had been extensively shared.
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The dangerous information although is that they weren’t true. Swans had been already a typical sight in Venice. The elephants had been merely sleeping.
Millions worldwide shared these pretend posts, together with Malaysians below lockdown.
Since May 12, Malaysian residents have confronted tightened restrictions but once more below the Movement Control Order 3.0. The stress will little doubt lead more to proceed sharing feel-good tales involving cute animals.
WILDLIFE ENCOUNTERS NOT LIMITED TO THE PANDEMIC ERA
But this renewed curiosity doesn’t essentially sign excellent news for both a rise in wildlife numbers or higher wildlife-human co-existence.
For occasion, studies abounded final 12 months of fish, reptiles, birds and otters frolicking in the Melaka river. The river is often polluted and full of vacationer boat site visitors, which impression wildlife well being and presence.
The actuality, although, is that the river was already being rehabilitated by the Department of Irrigation and Drainage. While the MCO led to an enormous drop in rubbish and wastewater from eating places —which inspired wildlife to return—the division’s spokesman expressed scepticism that this is able to final as soon as lockdowns lifted.
Therein lies the rub. Nature’s comeback requires modifications in human behaviour, but to this point these modifications have solely been artificially enforced by lockdowns. In dense city areas, actions similar to closing eateries and limiting tourism could be inconceivable.
Rural areas too, noticed their fair proportion of wildlife coming into largely abandoned buildings. Schools seem to have caught the fancy of re-tweeters.
An elephant testing lecture rooms in Perak grew to become a viral sensation. Another headline-maker was a tapir that fell right into a drain in a Pahang college whereas exams had been held in a corridor.
Large mammal encounters, nevertheless, have been occurring for some time, lengthy earlier than the COVID-19 period. One simply has to have a look at the social media feeds of the Wildlife Department and National Parks Peninsular Malaysia (Perhilitan).
For many years, the division has needed to seize and relocate elephants, tapirs, macaques and even tigers that wandered into villages, small cities, agricultural plots and highways.
These encounters haven’t all the time been excellent news for wildlife. On Mar 5, Perhilitan reported a Malayan tiger, rescued from a palm plantation weeks earlier after being shot by poachers, had died.
These encounters underscore the actuality that habitats for animals are shrinking and fragmented, consequently of deforestation for plantations and concrete growth.
Deforestation started in the 18th century when colonials did large-scale logging for timber and agriculture. As of final 12 months, Malaysia has misplaced 46 per cent of its forest cowl but to completely different levels in completely different states.
And whereas deforestation has slowed, every year the nation loses forest not less than two-and-a-half instances the measurement of Penang Island.
NOT ALL DOOM AND GLOOM
Luckily, it’s not all doom and gloom. The pandemic has resulted in some positives for wildlife, in offering an opportunity to realign human relationships with animals and their habitats.
In biodiversity-rich Langkawi island, wildlife is getting a reprieve from overtourism. The largely forest-clad 480 sq km island acquired an awesome 3.9 million guests in 2019, but after COVID-19 hit, noticed simply 1.1 million guests in the first seven months of 2020.
Thanks to lowered human presence, animals are actually more seen. At the similar time, researchers have been elevating the profile of the island’s distinctive but little-known gems, similar to colugos. They hope that these components will encourage authorities to shift developmental priorities in direction of sustainable ecotourism.
READ: Commentary: Cute otters and pangolins get saved but are ugly animals a lost conservation cause?
Meanwhile, non-governmental organisation The Malaysian Primatological Society has been quoted by the media about the return of monkeys to public locations in Perak and Penang. They are utilizing this chance to coach folks on how feeding and coming into shut contact with animals are detrimental to wildlife and people.
Likewise, in January authorities additionally warned in opposition to wildlife feeding in gentle of joggers being attacked by primates. The same assault occurred not too long ago in April, with the macaque misidentified in a viral publish as a baboon.
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While journey restrictions have interrupted subject analysis, a couple of conservationists have been capable of capitalise on this uncommon human-less interval.
For 11 days final 12 months, researchers sat tight in a Genting Highlands condominium to look at primates in a resort the place renovations had been stalled by the lockdown.
For the first time, siamangs, dusky langurs, Malayan pale-thighed langurs, long-tailed macaques and pig-tailed macaques had been recorded placing apart aggressive and aggressive behaviours when encountering one other species. Instead, they had been sharing area and meals assets in addition to bonding by taking part in and grooming.
“Strict controls on public movement are believed to have created environmental conditions that enabled Genting Highlands primates to move and interact freely among themselves,” mentioned the researchers.
Sadly, these pleasant findings didn’t go viral.
But as COVID-19 restrictions put on on, might they – and all these wildlife social media posts – make people change?
A HUNT FOR TURTLES
Last 12 months, when motion restrictions had been lifted, I legged it to Port Dickson, a well-liked seaside escape for Klang Valley residents. Three months beforehand, throughout the first MCO, over 200 turtle eggs had been found on one of the seashores.
A neighborhood fisheries officer advised reporters that turtle landings had change into uncommon in latest years as a consequence of the seaside resort’s vibrant lights, vacationer growth and heavy customer site visitors. But the lockdown had inspired the mom turtles to return.
That day, I took a sundown stroll on the seashore. Many teams of folks, socially distanced and face masks in tow, had been picnicking, having fun with the breeze or frolicking in the sea.
No likelihood of turtles developing right here, I assumed.
I walked to the finish of the seashore and turning again, noticed that the majority of us had left. In their place had been neat trash clumps, socially distanced: Orange peel, mushy drink cans, plastic straws – and surgical masks. All ready to be foraged by stray canines or blown into the ocean so as to add to the already huge marine air pollution drawback.
Yes, certainly. Absolutely no likelihood of turtles returning.
Siew Lyn Wong is co-founder and editor of Macaranga, an environmental journalism portal specializing in Malaysia.