Most of the news we receive during the pandemic is extremely dire, and the heartbreak and disruption it has caused and will continue to cause cannot be glossed over. Even so, some wondrous things are happening in the natural world that perhaps can provide some measure of cheer. As humans temporarily abandon field, forest, stream (and, in some cases, sidewalk), wildlife is moving in and habitats are bouncing back. Bears, coyotes, and other animals are roaming much more freely in Yosemite National Park. Usually elusive lions are napping on the road in Kruger National Park. Even in heavily populated Santiago, Chile, cougars have taken to the deserted streets.
In major cities, air pollution has dropped sharply, allowing citizens to breathe more easily and see views masked by smog for decades. The usual mowing and spraying of herbicides along roadways has not occurred in many areas, allowing a riot of wildflowers to bloom—presumably benefiting pollinators and songbirds by giving them more food sources as they migrate and reducing their exposure to toxins.
Even amid the severe hardships imposed on our education systems, teachers and organizations are stepping up to offer online curriculum focused on wildlife and habitats free of charge, with at least one lesson featuring famed conservationist Sir David Attenborough. Hopefully, more young people will be exposed to the wonders of the natural world and become advocates for animals as a result. And people are remembering or discovering for the first time how much solace they can find in nature—whether their own yard, a local park, or public lands.
Eventually, some version of “normal” will return. But all these observations should give us pause—and make us strongly consider just what we want our normal to include once that happens.