How nature is healing during Covid-19

The Coronavirus pandemic might be a human tragedy, but what about its impact on nature? Here, we take a look at how nature is reclaiming its space during Covid-19.
Female Eastern Grey kangaroo (Macropus giganteus) with joey climbing into her pouch. Photo: K.A.Willis/Shutterstock
Female Eastern Grey kangaroo (Macropus giganteus) with joey climbing into her pouch. Photo: K.A.Willis/Shutterstock


Since the start of the Coronavirus outbreak in late 2019, countries around the globe have been put under lockdown and the travel industry has ground to a halt. Amid the backdrop of an international health crisis and economic turmoil, some more positive stories have emerged – among them tales of nature reclaiming its space, reduced carbon emissions and sightings of rare animals cavorting in city streets. Here are some ways that nature is healing during Covid-19.

1. Lower emissions

With airline fleets grounded, car travel crawling and business and industry grinding to a halt around the world, it’s not surprising that global emissions have taken a welcome tumble, too. In the EU alone, emissions have fallen 58% on pre-crisis levels, while satellite data shows similar trends for levels of nitrogen dioxide, especially over China. These are promising signs; the pandemic has also forced governments across the world to hit the ‘pause’ button, making it a great time for nations to re-evaluate their priorities and consider the long-term future of the planet.                    

Nevertheless, there are equally founded concerns that the respite won’t last long. Pollution levels are already rising over China, where restrictions are slowly being lifted. More worrying are fears that any short-term gains will be reversed by Covid-19 dominating the political landscape and public debate over the coming months, drowning out any environmental discussion. International climate talks have already been delayed in the face of the pandemic, and new initiatives postponed; continued environmental commitment will require world citizens to keep their eyes on the ball.

2. Rare animal sightings

With lockdown measures emptying city streets around the world of their human inhabitants, animals everywhere are taking back control. From a coyote spotted in Chicago to a jaguar roaming the streets of Tulum and a kangaroo hopping around downtown Adelaide, urban populations just got a lot more exciting. And it’s not just land animals, either. As sea traffic stalls, dolphins have been swimming right up to the port in Cagliari, Sardinia’s capital, while migratory birds are winging their way closer to cities – and that’s before anyone mentioned the wild turkeys strutting their stuff around Oakland in California.    

Coyote in a US city street. Photo: Matt Knoth/Shutterstock

3. Reduced air pollution

In recent weeks, social media has exploded with photos and videos of clear skies and views that haven’t be visible for decades. The reason? Reduced air pollution. The most startling example came in the form of tweets from Jalandhar in Punjab, where you can now see the Himalayas more than 120 miles away – visible for the first time in 30 years. Blue skies have also appeared over several usually smog-chocked Chinese provinces, while the air quality in cities from New Delhi to LA is cleaner than at any point in recent history.

Live Asian animal market. Photo: Baloncici/Shutterstock

4. A rethink of habitat destruction and animal markets

More than 60% of human diseases are contracted from animal hosts. As well as coronavirus, a raft of other infectious diseases – think: Ebola, Sars and bird flu – all came from animals. Animal markets and wet markets, where a range of live and dead species are sold in (often) dirty and cramped conditions, are the perfect breeding ground for disease, where they are incubated and then passed on to humans. While China has issued a temporary ban on its wet markets in light of the pandemic, there have been calls for the country to make the ban permanent. Covid-19 is a stark warning to nations around the globe to take a long, hard look at the food industry, and how we can buy and consume our meals in a sustainable, ethical and hygienic way.

Taking a more holistic view, the recent pandemic is another reason to seriously consider and challenge human-driven habitat destruction. According to the WWF, around half of all the world’s original forests have already disappeared, and are currently being destroyed at a rate ten-times higher than any possible regrowth. Natural habitat destruction not only threatens to wipe out species and throw entire ecosystems into disarray, it also poses a real danger to public health. As we invade natural landscapes – home to a world of exotic plants and animals, some still undiscovered – we bring wild animals into closer contact with human populations, and with them a host of infectious diseases.

As Covid-19 continues to throw the world upside-down, nature continues to heal. Animals are staking out new territories, stunning views are unfurling before our eyes and global emissions are tumbling. Now it’s up to humankind to bring them with us into the future.