Animal migration patterns are being disrupted by human activity

Animals across the world are facing life or death situations in trying to migrate the way they've been doing for years on end.

Migration is crucial to almost every animal on the planet ranging from animals as small as microscopic zooplankton traveling vertically only tens of meters, to whales, the size of fifteen school buses, travelling thousands of kilometers on end. With human civilization changing 50-70% of the earth’s surface, animals are finding themselves caught up in our activity.

Animals use migration to find better natural resources, weather and food. Humans effects on the migration comes in all forms, whether it’s the city lights affecting the animals direction with the stars and moons or human development coming in the way. 

A white stork bird is a perfect example of a busy city complicating it’s migration. These birds live in central Europe and in winters, they make a long journey to southern Africa across the cruel Sahara. Recently studies have been showing that cities such as Madrid, Spain, and Rabat, have been stopping these birds from migrating, due to their smells and lights. 

Another big factor that affecting migration is climate change, which is affecting weather patterns. This in turn affects the plants and landscape and that changes things for animals. Animals adapt to these changes in various ways including changing their migration patterns, constantly chasing better resources, food and precipitation.

Africa is home to an abundance of unique animals throughout the continent, with sparser human development compared to many other regions. However, poaching is affecting the wildlife drastically. Illegal hunting is more directed to animals with certain horns and the ivory they hold, like rhinos and elephants. Most poachers intercept these animals during migration, when the animals are vulnerable, and this throws off their natural paths. Most of Africa’s wildlife now live in a protected reserves. There are 268 national parks and reserves where armed rangers keep watch. Hunting has gotten so bad for certain species that their migration has to be assisted. These animals are transported in crates from park to park as they grow and have different needs to thrive.

Big bright city lights and smells also play big roles in disturbing animal migration. Many animals use star navigation, following the star patterns and moon placement. From long distances, animals that haven’t encountered big cities, like younger newborns, can often mistake these bright lights for stars. When a baby sea turtle is first born they must dangerously migrate to the ocean from the beach they were born at. Most times they follow the moon’s reflection off the ocean but some of the beaches are right beside cities, distracting them with the bright light overpowering the moon and the strong scent hovering around. With the sea turtles numbers already dropping due to pollution and climate change, this adds on to the mess.

All is not lost. There have been many ways that places have been trying to protect animals during migration throughout the world. In two of Canada’s national parks, Banff and Yoho, the part service has installed animal protection overpasses that help animals cross the Trans Canada highway without encountering traffic. And beaches around the world such as Costa Rica’s Ostional National Wildlife Refuge home some of the largest turtle gatherings in the world, are closing off sections to the public to make sure these sea turtle hatchlings reach the water safely and making sure there’s no other bright lights in sight. 

Whistler, BC is home to a large frog migration during which about 40,000 baby frogs migrate from the lake they were born in to the nearby forests. The popular Lost Lake is where these hatch lings were raised and the bike path around the entire lake makes migration almost impossible without closing up certain paths of the trail which have the most frog traffic. In order to help the frogs migrate safely, the village of Whistler closes off roads, parking lots, and event grounds. Little things like this all around the world goes the longest way for the future of many animals and their existence.

Migration, with some animals is a matter of life or death. But even the littlest of changes like closing off a road for a couple days can change many species futures, and protect them for the future.

Photo Credit: David Dennis

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