A new project is trying to find out how wildlife in P.E.I. parks has reacted to changes in human presence triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The project started last fall and is looking at how animal behaviour in different locations in the province has been affected as Islanders have avoided indoor activities and spent more time in nature.
"The idea for this project was to understand that if the people are going more outdoors, if that would change wildlife activity patterns that was influenced by the presence of human activity," said Juliana Fernandes Granzoti, manager of the South Shore Watershed Association and the person responsible for the project.
Trail cameras were placed at Westmoreland River Nature Park in Crapaud, the Ducks Unlimited Pond in Augustine Cove and Linden Hill Pond in DeSable to monitor wildlife presence. Later, they added another camera in Tryon Trail in North Tryon.
The project also tried to identify different factors which could stress the animals, such as people feeding them or making a lot of noise.
It was initially awarded $1,320 through P.E.I.'s Wildlife Conservation Fund. The research has since grown a bit in scope and the group has partnered with the province's Forest, Fish and Wildlife Division.
Fernandes Granzoti said that while research is still ongoing, they've so far found that wildlife is acting healthy.
"The movement of the species appears to be the same," she said. "Last fall, we identified that even though we had a lot of human activities in our parks, that didn't change the animal behaviour."
Foxes and mange
The red fox population in particular seems to be doing very well, showing few signs of severe mange, she said.
Though no correlation between recreational activity and poor health in foxes has been established, Fernandes Granzoti said that according to the biologist she's working with, it is "plausible" food left by humans could be related to mange cases.
The chances of the disease spreading among the fox population increases when there are more occasions for foxes mingling, such as in places where easy food could be obtained.
Fernandes Granzoti said she hopes local campaigns meant to inform the public not to feed the animals have been effective.
"Watersheds are trying to create awareness to not feed wildlife, especially foxes," she said. "They're pretty cute, but you should not feed the animals."
There have been other initiatives trying to determine how wildlife and the environment have reacted to human COVID-19 lockdowns, some of them on a global scale.
The International Bio-Logging Society is currently collecting data on how wildlife has responded to altered levels of human activity during the pandemic.
The PAN-Environment working group is another initiative with a similar scope. Earlier this year, the group wrote a paper on how wildlife and the environment responded to the first few months of COVID-era lockdowns.
Fernandes Granzoti said all the data collection the project is doing can be useful to identify and address issues affecting wildlife.
"If we have, for example, an outbreak of mange on foxes ... it is easy to talk to the [province] so the biologists can have a better access and they know where the animals are located to do the specific treatment.
"It's helpful because you have a quick response for different factors such as mange, disease, or if they're changing their behaviour."
She said the group plans to continue collecting data for the foreseeable future, maybe placing more cameras in other areas.