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Endangered Wildlife: Unseen Victims of Coronavirus

Measures taken to stop the spread of Coronavirus are having unintended consequences for wildlife and biodiversity conservation that could take years to repair.

In the wake of shelter-in-place orders, stories have emerged of coyotes exploring empty beaches in the San Francisco Bay and goats roaming city centers. Still, freed from human intervention, not all species are thriving. Instead, efforts to limit the spread of Coronavirus could make already threatened species more vulnerable to extinction.

The Coronavirus pandemic has brought the world to a standstill, and for a very good reason—protecting people and reducing the spread of this disease is a necessity. Still, travel restrictions and social distancing requirements have also halted many vital conservation efforts, leaving already threatened wildlife and ecosystems susceptible.

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Endangered species including Rhinoceros could face additional threats in the face of Coronavirus. Credit: Matthew Rodgers

Matt Brown, Africa regional managing director for the Nature Conservancy highlights the threat this pandemic poses to already Endangered Rhino populations, saying:

Anything with a horn right now, like rhinos, is at risk of being poached. The concern is that we’re going to lose the last 10 years of good conservation work—and an increase in animal numbers—quickly because of this.”

Poaching is not the only threat to global biodiversity. Island ecosystems where invasive species control and removal efforts were planned or underway have largely been halted. Ambitious projects such as those on Midway Atoll and Gough Island to remove invasive mice have been delayed by a year, putting albatross populations at even greater risk. Although such a delay might not seem vital, research on Gough Island indicates that predatory, invasive mice result in two million fewer seabird eggs and chicks surviving, annually.

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Critically Endangered Short-tailed Albatross incubating an egg. Credit: USFWS/J. Klavitter

On the coast of California, conservation efforts focused on removing invasive giant reeds that occupy the river beds of Ventura County have been put on hold. The rapidly growing, bamboo-like weed threatens the recovery of native willow and cottonwood trees, which serve as vital habitat for endangered birds. Giant reed outcompetes the trees and makes the region more susceptible to wildfires where the invasive plants act as kindling for the flames. In an area that is already prone to devastating fires, this could become dangerous as the dry season approaches.

Although ongoing efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19, are necessary for the health and safety of people, there is a serious concern that there will be unintended consequences for wildlife, going as far as to set some conservation programs back by years. Despite these concerns, conservationists are doing their best to reduce and prevent any loss of momentum, and remain optimistic for the future of threatened and endangered species.

Read more at WIRED and HuffPost.
Featured photo: Endangered Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross (Thalassarche chlororhynchos) on Gough Island. Credit: Ben Dilley

About Emily Heber

Emily is a recent graduate from UC Santa Barbara with a BS in Zoology. As a student, she discovered that she had a passion for the conservation of endangered species and their ecosystems. Her background in informal education has allowed her the opportunity to share her passion for animals with others, something she seeks to continue doing while working with the communication team. In her spare time, Emily enjoys exploring the amazing hiking trails found in Santa Cruz and tries to SCUBA dive whenever possible. Emily is excited to join the Island Conservation team and to help share the amazing work that is being done here.

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