by Becky Gudknecht
It takes a powerful force, man-made or natural, to shift the boundaries of the anthropocentric world. Curious phenomena have begun to take shape as humans take a step back and unveil unhindered systems as mother nature intended. Our impact on the natural world is far greater than we can imagine in our day to day lives. However, as we suddenly withdraw from the environment to quarantine during this modern-day plague, the interface between man and nature is indeed shifting its boundaries. It may be worth paying attention to.
Stories and pictures of wild animals taking to empty streets are becoming more common. The first noted animals that began to change were the ones closest to the interface of the human and natural worlds. Wild animals that depend on humans for their food source began changing behaviors. Monkeys that could always count on tourists for a bite to eat suddenly lost their next meal. Once playful and mischievous, these creatures turned to a mob-like mentality as empty plazas, streets, and markets no longer catered to their needs. Survival has thus become difficult for them. Rats, who prefer to exist in the dark shadows of the earth, have also lost a large portion of their food source as the once busy city streets and restaurants fell quiet and ceased to deliver a robust supply of scraps in easily accessible trash bins. Observers have noticed a migration of sorts as rat populations are forced to venture further to find food. Watch your feet the next time you turn on the light.
More notable and interesting are the animals that have not adapted to human dependence – the ones who have maintained a safe distance and choose not to associate with our erratic behaviors as their instincts cause them to wonder, “Do they want to eat me or pet me?” Stories and balcony photos are emerging of wild boar, goats and deer taking to the streets in various places around the globe. Even the most elusive creatures have recently been spotted, such as a puma captured in a Chilean square as it took advantage of the nighttime curfew in its nocturnal wanderings.
These animals have no need to venture into human territory, yet it is happening. Is it curiosity, perhaps, that is coercing them out of their world and into ours? Or is it because we have stifled their most basic instinct – to roam – by fracturing their environment with our sprawl? We did not consider them as we developed straight through their habitats. We created no safe passage for them to cross as we expropriated their lands. All the while, their instincts are still to roam as their world shrinks and ours broadens. Perhaps researchers will find interest in studying these effects through a biocentric lens. Perhaps results will yield evidence to create, if just for a brief moment, empathy in humans towards the wild world.
This temporary phenomenon is captivating and may never happen again in our lifetime. We are playing witness to a chapter in which wildlife is adapting to our absence, taking advantage, in some cases, of human life interruption and, in others, picking up and moving on for nothing more than survival. In the blink of the eye, when our pandemic fades and life returns to a familiar place, the boundaries will once again shift. Animals who are wild and free will retreat back to the safety of lands that are equally wild and free. And of course, monkeys will once again be fat and happy in exotic tourist epicenters. But perhaps this grand animal emergence is a gentle reminder from nature that we do not set all boundaries, and that we have extended our reach too far. This event seems to beg to remind us that our influence over the natural world is potent, yet nature is resilient and patient.
And as Nature – the very merciless entity that sent us into retreat – delivers us back to our everyday lives, it awaits humanity to find the humility to regard ourselves as cohort of the animal kingdom, rather than conqueror.