I owe all of you an explanation. For understandable reasons I lost my writing mojo for about six months. Covid-19 didn’t help the situation and neither did the recent devastating fires that caused me, along with thousands of other people to evacuate out of our homes in the mountains. I’m thankful that the gorgeous redwoods along with the wildlife who sheltered on my property survived. But, the life changing event that metaphorically pushed me over the cliff was the death of my life partner, George on Monday, March 23rd 2020. That is when the world turned upside down for me. Instead of the trees in the little canyon shining in vibrant colors after his death, they became dull and subdued. Even the forest sounds changed, becoming heavy—like deep, sad sighs.
Life continues on
Despite the traumas and the natural and human made disasters that affect our world, life continues. In the midst of devastation, wildlife does its best to adapt, survive and regenerate. The life dramas in my favorite canyon still unfold and are continually recorded by my trail cameras. It’s all there, objectively imprinted on little memory cards which are copied and saved into the cloud. Thousands of 15-20 second videos document expected natural wildlife scenarios as well as the reactions of animals to unexpected events such as wildfires and the human responses to the pandemic.
Pandemic reset button
In addition to hoarding toilet paper during the initial pandemic months, people rarely ventured far from their back yards and front doors. Everyone was in lockdown. Streets became deserted, restaurants and businesses temporarily closed, downtowns were abandoned. Urban centers transformed into ghost towns. Earth seemed to take note of the lack of human activity and momentarily reset herself. For the first time in years, the predominant sounds were bird calls and gentle breezes. The skies transformed into a rich blue and the mountains were no longer shrouded in brown smog. The air was so clear that the rock formations on the Farallon Islands were visible from the coast all day. Many animals also responded to the absence of humans, changing their patterns and schedules, venturing into cities and neighborhoods at all hours.* This wasn’t just a local phenomenon, it was the same story throughout the world.
The memory cards were rich with images. They recorded more than the usual residents. Species that we’ve never seen before in the canyon were filmed. The animal’s schedules also changed—many, who before Covid-19 were typically recorded only late at night and early mornings, were filmed at all hours. Wild turkeys showed up and there was an increase in visits from coyote 09M, his mate and a couple of pups. Bobcats made a number of appearances regardless of the time of day. Although it proved to be a temporary re-wilding, it was refreshing to see.
People wanted out
The re-wilding was temporary. There’s only so long that humans can maintain their sanity restricted to their homes. At first, binge watching on Netflix, cleaning closets and socializing on Zoom help distract and eat up the hours, but after a couple months it took an emotional and psychological toll. Desperate to return to normalcy, people started driving again and they also searched for green places to walk. The local canyon trail was a little slice of wild almost in their back yards. Wanting to connect with nature, they over-crowded the trails.
Most everyone was respectful, keeping to the trails, enjoying nature and not tossing trash around. Many brought dogs with them—the majority of the dog people were responsible, keeping them leashed, on the trails and cleaning up after them. One conscientious walker unknowingly scooped up and bagged Coyote 09M’s poop—other predators may have appreciated the gesture. The cameras filmed it all.
The wildlife cams also caught walkers who let their dogs run off leash. Dogs were recorded trampling sensitive habitats and scaring the wildlife. The impact was immediately obvious—only a few wild animals were filmed.
Please be respectful and protective of the few wild areas that are left. Keep your dogs on leash—don’t let them run loose. It makes a big difference for the wildlife. Between our human developments and California’s wildfires, their habitats are dramatically shrinking.
The disasters keep coming
4 million acres have burned in California this year and it’s only the beginning of the fire season. One of the fires, the CZU Lightning Complex Fire began the morning of August 16th. It burned more than 86,500 acres in San Mateo and Santa Cruz Counties and was finally contained on September 22nd. Tragically, many animals perished while others fled for their lives—finding sanctuary in the remaining open spaces, near urban centers and in small patches of undeveloped wild spaces, including the little 90 acre canyon.
Because of the devastating fires that burned throughout the state, the quality of the air deteriorated. For weeks it hovered between hazardous and very unhealthy, sending people back into their homes where they could breathe. For a few days, the San Francisco Bay Area had the worse air quality in the world, some locations topping 500. During this time the cameras recorded an upsurge in animals and a decline in people. One lion was filmed frequently on all of my cameras. He hung around for about 3 weeks, having plenty to eat because the deer were abundant. Predators follow their food and venison is the mountain lion’s favorite meal. Note that this stunning lion is easy to distinguish because of the markings on his cheek.
Not surprisingly, very few coyotes were filmed while the lion favored the canyon. Although both are apex predators, lions are a threat to coyotes so they will avoid confrontations with the larger predator. The bobcats did stick around though; a number of them were filmed, including a little bobcat family. Originally there were 3 kittens in this family, unfortunately, only one survived.
During the last 8 months, the world turned upside down, and not in a good way. Every event, whether natural or manmade has repercussions on the environment and the eco-system—everything is impacted. Although, there are positive consequences, there is an over-abundance of negative ones. It may seem out of our control, but there’s plenty we can do as individuals. Even though change needs to occur at government and corporate levels, we individuals can also make a difference. Actions as simple as picking up trash, keeping dogs on leashes in sensitive habitats, using renewable resources, recycling and planting trees are examples of a few activities that each of us can do that will help heal the earth.
*The Bay Area Puma Project is analyzing data they’ve collected of how wildlife responded the pandemic. Additionally they are tracking how the fires are impacting displaced animals and the disruption to animals in neighboring habitats.
Marilyn Krieger, CCBC, The Cat Coach LLC® and author of Naughty No More! helps solve cat behavior challenges nationally and internationally through on site and remote consultations. Her fascination with cat behaviors began with household cats and quickly expanded to wild felids.
Marilyn enjoys educating people about cat behavior. She gives presentations throughout the United States as well as writes columns and articles for a variety of venues. Additionally Marilyn is a frequent guest on television and radio. She has appeared, along with her Bengals and Savannah Cat on Animal Planet, CBS, ABC, KGO and others.
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