Wolves, boars and bears spotted as Italian lockdown continues

Sparked by corona lockdown, animals roam freely on roads. (Reuters)
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Updated 19 April 2020

Wolves, boars and bears spotted as Italian lockdown continues

  • Ethologists observing the unusual phenomenon sparked by the lockdown have cautioned against assuming that nature is reclaiming its own permanently

ROME: As Italians enter the seventh week of Europe’s longest coronavirus-induced lockdown, they are becoming accustomed to the sight of wild animals in spaces that humans have temporarily abandoned.
With people locked at home in order to minimize the spread, streets, squares and parks have been tentatively repopulated. Dogs, cats and pigeons, of course, have taken the opportunity to roam freely, but also roe deer, wild boar and even wolves.
Photos of these uncommon creatures in highly urbanized areas like Rome, Milan and Turin are all over the internet, creating an online sensation.
“It is like the wildlife has reclaimed spaces stolen, while a mocking virus forces us to hide in our homes. Now we are inside and they are outside, like in an inverted role-player game,” Prof. Saverio Sevirio, an ethologist who has been studying this phenomenon, told Arab News.
Local media in Tuscany reported a wolf had been spotted slinking out of a park in Sesto Fiorentino, an industrial center near Florence. Goslings were seen waddling behind their mothers along deserted thoroughfares in Treviso, not far from Venice. Fallow deer invaded a golf course in Sardinia, and even enjoyed a dip in the clubhouse’s luxurious swimming pool.
In Cagliari, bottlenose dolphins have long been known to wait at the mouth of the port to play in the wake of departing vessels. But none are leaving, as the port has been closed by the authorities, so the dolphins have been filmed swimming up and down, under quays, and peering at the humans above. A similar phenomenon has been observed at Trieste in the North East of Italy. “A non-scientist might speculate that the dolphins are thinking: ‘Why aren’t you moving around in your boats any longer?’” said Sevirio.
Ethologists observing the unusual phenomenon sparked by the lockdown have cautioned against assuming that nature is reclaiming its own permanently. Some mammals, like foxes, may have been in the cities already, prowling undetected at night. A golden eagle spotted gliding above a main road in Milan posed a different question: Was it there because of the lockdown, or did people just notice it because of the lockdown?
The same question was raised in Rome when a Carabinieri patrol spotted six huge wild boar eating grass on the green in front of the Basilica di San Giovanni, one mile from the Colosseum. The green — a big area which usually hosts concerts and political rallies of up to half million people —lies at the center of the Italian capital.
“Normally you would hardly see a cat here, as they are afraid of cars speeding and people congregating. Now, as there is nobody around, we have boars here. Hopefully they will not be dangerous,” said Giovanni, a pensioner who lives locally while out walking his dog.
“Since the city parks have been closed for so long, we don’t know what we will find when the lockdown ends,” a police officer in Rome told Arab News. Parks like Villa Borghese and Villa Ada spread for hundreds of hectares, and include lakes and wetlands, so the city’s authorities fear that some wild animals may have already taken over. “It will be hard to kick them out — we have been told that wolves have been spotted. That’s not good,” the policeman added.
Indeed, though interesting to watch, not all wild animal reappearances have been welcomed. Residents in Alpine areas of the province of Trentino-Alto Adige have been advised not only to stay at home, but to refrain from leaving out rubbish at night that might attract Italy’s most wanted animal, a notorious brown bear known to scientists as M49 and to the public as “Papillon” (because of his escape last year over three electrified fences).
The bear is nicknamed after Henri Charrière, the only man to escape from the French penal colony on Devil’s Island, and like him, the animal has a substantial criminal record, having broken into people’s cottages and attacked cattle. The mayor of Rome, Virginia Raggi, urged AMA, the Italian garbage collection agency, to intensify rubbish collection efforts on the back of the report in order to deter potentially dangerous wild animals from entering residential areas in search of food.


UK scientists to test extent of airborne COVID-19 transmission

Updated 35 min 59 sec ago

UK scientists to test extent of airborne COVID-19 transmission

  • COVID-19 is known to be present in droplets produced from the mouth and nose from people coughing, sneezing, talking or just breathing
  • Findings could affect governments’ safety measures based on climate, air quality

LONDON: A team of UK scientists is set to discover how long COVID-19 can survive in airborne particles.
In an experiment slated to commence on Monday, researchers at the University of Bristol will test whether the virus is at its most virulent in respiratory droplets, or whether it remains active over significant periods in tiny aerosol particles.
COVID-19 is known to be present in droplets produced from the mouth and nose from people coughing, sneezing, talking or just breathing.
But these remain airborne, and therefore active, for a much shorter period of time than aerosol particles before dropping to the floor.
This is the reasoning behind multiple governments’ enforcing social-distancing measures of 2 meters, among other things. 
But were the virus able to survive in much smaller aerosol particles, it is possible that it could travel greater distances — carried by air currents and ventilation systems — and infect more people, rendering social-distancing measures less effective. 
The theory has gained traction as examples from across the world of groups of people being infected despite observing social-distancing measures, or doing so in poorly ventilated spaces.
Prof. Jonathan Reid, who is leading the Bristol team, told The Guardian newspaper: “We know that when bacteria or viruses become airborne in respiratory droplets they very quickly dry down and can lose viability, so that’s an important step to understand when assessing the role of airborne transmission in COVID-19.”
Allen Haddrell, a scientist at the University of Bristol, said: “We can effectively mimic a cold, wet British winter — or even a hot, dry summer in Saudi Arabia — to look at how these dramatic differences in environmental conditions affect how long the virus remains infectious while suspended in air.”
Results will possibly ready by the end of the week for external scrutiny by the broader scientific community.
Despite excitement surrounding the experiment, some scientists have urged caution, especially regarding the scope of practical applications that could result from it.
“I think the science is fine, and will show the principal that you can modify the environment to reduce the survivability of the virus,” said Dr. Julian Tang, a consultant virologist at Leicester Royal Infirmary.
“But the applicability might be tricky, depending on the environmental factors they identify. You’re not going to sit in a theater or cinema if the temperature is 35 degrees and the humidity is 80 percent.”