The Great Pause
4th October, 2020
Looking back to how we were in the month of February, weren’t we all complaining about the inhumane workload in our occupational life? Back then, we all used to hopelessly gaze at our calendars or check our attendance percentages if we could just take a day off for ourselves. The true scope of having a “me-time” every day, suddenly seemed lost. Everyone, especially the college-goers like us, was just waiting for the summer vacation. Instead, we got an early vacation from March 2020. All of us were brimming with joy and happiness as finally, we could get rid of the fast-paced life around us.
Humanity just took a set-back then. Eventually, the lockdown period just kept extending. As published in the Journal of Nature Ecology and Evolution on 22nd June 2020, Christian Rutz and Matthais-Claudio Loretto (https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-020-1237-z), along with their other fellow team members noticed that people were referring to this period as “The Great Pause” and hence, decided to coin the term anthropause. If we try to simplify the definition stated by the researchers in the above-mentioned journal, anthropause is quite similar to the hibernation period experienced by animals. The unprecedented slowdown in regular human activities has just refrained humans to step outside their houses and curb on their traveling schedule. This fight against the so-called invisible organism has simply led all of us towards the state of “house-arrest”.
Though this lockdown has confined us to our houses, nature seems to wander off its grid. Wildlife has chosen to explore beyond their confined forested areas. In Uttarakhand, three Sambar deer were spotted walking on the streets, while a nilgai was found strolling in Noida (Sharma, U. (2020, April 4). Animals have come home. Covid-19 lockdown gives control back into nature’s hands. ThePrint. https://theprint.in/opinion/pov/animals-have-come-home-covid-19-lockdown-gives-control-back-into-natures-hands/395218/).
When the cameras of various reporters were busy capturing Olive Ridley Turtles crawling on the shores of Orissa, Mumbai was fortunate enough to come across peacocks in broad daylight. These rare wildlife sightings were not only restricted to India. ... penguins waddling across Cape Town and even sea lions in Mar Del Plata harbor in Argentina!— the denizens of the world are witnessing some rare wildlife sightings! (HOW COVID-19 PANDEMIC HAS AFFECTED WILDLIFE. (2020, May 13). Wildlife SOS. https://wildlifesos.org/chronological-news/how-covid-19-pandemic-has-affected-wildlife/).
Some benefit of the “pause” has been greater than it was thought to be.
An extremely precise statistic was mentioned by Justin Perrault, Director of Research for the Loggerhead marine life center, referring to a study conducted in Florida. The study reported an increase in the frequency of female Loggerhead turtles laying eggs on the beach, due to closure, from 50% to 61% just in the anthropause.
Marine researchers, meanwhile, are turning to crossbows and microphones to understand how the pandemic is affecting ocean life (StokstadAug. 13, E., 2020, & Pm, 4:35. (2020, August 13). The pandemic stilled human activity. What did this ‘anthropause’ mean for wildlife? Science | AAAS. https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/08/pandemic-stilled-human-activity-what-did-anthropause-mean-wildlife).
“All over the world, field biologists have fitted animals with miniature tracking devices. These bio-loggers provide a goldmine of information on animal movement and behavior, which we can now tap to improve our understanding of human-wildlife interactions, with benefits for all.”
- by Christian Rutz in The ‘anthropause’ during COVID-19. (2020, June 25). Cosmos Magazine. (https://cosmosmagazine.com/nature/animals/the-anthropause-during-covid-19/)
As stated in the aforementioned article, the researchers are gathering fat samples from humpback whales to quantify levels of cortisol, a hormone responsible for maintaining stress levels. They intend to gather new examples throughout the following year when boat traffic is likely to increase. By comparing the samples, they hope to find a clear signal of how much additional stress, if any, the boat noise creates for whales. Thus, through this, scientists have started acknowledging the unique scientific opportunities being added during the anthropause.
Just like the positive aspects, researchers have also thrown light upon how the sudden non-availability of visitors is affecting the wildlife at popular national parks and marine reserves. In the Bahamas, researchers are examining how the absence of tourists is affecting the diet and health of rock iguanas, a lizard (StokstadAug. 13, E., 2020, & Pm, 4:35. (2020, August 13). The pandemic stilled human activity. What did this ‘anthropause’ mean for wildlife? Science |AAAS. https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/08/pandemic-stilled-human-activity-what-did-anthropause-mean-wildlife). Susannah French, a physiological ecologist at Utah State University, Logan, reported that a sudden drop in tourists must be having significant effects on the iguanas in the Bahamas who are routinely fed bread, meat, fruits, and vegetables. Thus, researchers are now trying to figure out if this is anyway affecting the health and diet of this breed of lizards.
The findings have not only been restricted to terrestrial species and aquatic life. Equal importance has also been given to various urban-dwelling animals like rats, gulls, and monkeys. These creatures used to completely rely on the discarded food provided mostly by humans. To avoid falling prey to this disease, hygiene and cleanliness have been given the utmost importance. The period of anthropause has thus led to subtle behavioral changes in all urban-dwelling animals, especially stray dogs. According to the behaviorists in Delhi, animals of these kinds have simply plunged themselves into a state of confusion. Akansha Yadav -- founder of Pawtricks, a canine training and consulting firm - said there was not a behavioral change in all the dogs, but it was possible in
specific categories (Experts say lockdown leading to subtle behavioral changes
in stray dogs. (2020, April 7). Deccan Herald. https://www.deccanherald.com/national/experts-say-lockdown-leading-to-subtle-behavioural-changes-in-stray-dogs-822577.html).
The entire lockdown has been drastic, unpredictable, and unavoidable. As indicated earlier, the impacts are certainly widespread. Even though the lockdown has been lifted in quite a significant number of places, the anthropause is not over yet. The pandemic is still a concern among many and human mobility is nowhere close to the pre-COVID levels. But the scientists still have the opportunity to continue with their researches and collect data. Along with the researchers, we all hope that anthropause is really a once-in-a-lifetime event.
As quoted by Witman,
“It’s our sincere hope that no one ever gets a chance to study this again. But incredible things are happening in natural ecosystems.”
About the Author
Saptarshi Bhattacharyya is a student of the second year of the Department of Biotechnology, St. Xavier's College (Autonomous), Kolkata.