In the weeks since Italy’s nationwide lockdown went into effect, reports of dolphins returning to the country’s waterways and canals running clear in Venice circulated on social media, prompting some to wonder whether humans, not COVID-19, were the real scourge. “Nature is reclaiming its spaces during quarantine,” one Twitter user said.
That sentiment may seem innocent enough — who doesn’t like to think about dolphins frolicking in a Venetian canal? — but it’s wrong on more than one front. Many of the reports of nature thriving in humans’ absence are bogus. Elephants getting drunk on wine and passing out in a field? Debunked. Water quality in Venice? More or less the same; the canals just look cleaner because boats aren’t churning up sediment every few minutes. Swans returning to Italian canals? They’ve always been there.
And there’s a darker — if unintended — side to claims that nature is better off without humans. It’s not only misanthropic to turn a blind eye to human suffering in the service of conservation; it also echoes some of the dark, racist strains of the environmentalist movement.
Luckily, Twitter has a way of simultaneously generating bad takes and quashing them. Those tweets about nature coming back spawned a new meme. Turns out, dolphins, swans, and elephants aren’t the only critters making a comeback thanks to the coronavirus.
Lime scooters returned to rivers, their native habitat.
Dinosaurs, thought to have gone extinct 65 million years ago, flocked to the streets of Lisbon.
While all of Italy was under quarantine, some of the region’s most iconic native fauna was spotted in nearby forests.
And London has seen a revival of its unique feral cat population:
See? Nature really is amazing. But, like it or not, humans are very much still here.