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Wildlife Sightings Are Up In Colorado, But Not Because There's Suddenly More Wildlife

Warren Brown Photography
Creative Commons

The state is under a stay-at-home order, and fewer people are out and about. What has all this meant for Colorado’s wildlife?

Shannon Schaller is the senior wildlife biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s northeast region, and she’s joined Colorado Edition to explain.

Interview Highlights

These interview highlights have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Erin O’Toole: Lately, a lot more wildlife sightings have been popping up on social media -- things like elk hanging out on a golf course, or mountain lions strolling around in Boulder. Has Colorado Parks and Wildlife been getting more calls about wildlife sightings since the state’s stay-at-home order went into effect?

Shannon Schaller: People are providing a lot of great pictures of what they’re seeing. Our local wildlife officers who receive a lot of the calls from the public are seeing sighting that they don’t expect. From our standpoint, the animals are taking advantage of less people being out and about.  

This is also a really active time for wildlife. Spring is when grass is greening up and there’s more available food. There are new babies so the parents are gathering food.

While the animals are getting more active, we’re also stuck in our homes and able to see the wildlife when we might otherwise have been at work or somewhere else.

So it’s a combination of they are more active because of the time of year, and we have the opportunity to see them because we’re all at home and doing our part.

Broadly speaking, how has the state’s stay-at-home order changed the way wildlife interacts with urban environments?

As people try to get outdoors and keep a little bit of their sanity, we have a lot of people on open space or in parks, some of the areas where wildlife may have been able to be out and about. So maybe they’re shifting some of their focus and being more observable in areas like downtown Boulder.

Animals normally were doing some of these movements in urban areas in the dawn and dusk, when we are inside our houses. They’ve been able to shift that activity and be in the more urban areas where we are not right now.

Has the coronavirus, and social distancing as a result of the virus, had any other impacts on the state’s wildlife?

What we’re going to see is an opportunity to really know what’s out there. What I find most interesting from this coronavirus time we’re in is that we’re really observing that animals are adaptable. They learn to shift their behavior where we are and where we aren’t.

We’re also seeing opportunities where animals have become dependent on different food sources because people were around and that food source may not be available. I think it’s yet to be seen what we’ll observe with things like bears. Unfortunately, bears get food from urban environments and as we change our behavior -- being in our houses more and less out in the forest -- it will definitely have an impact for those animals that have become reliant on people food sources.

I think we’ll see some sort of impact with animals like bears and raccoon and coyotes in the urban environment.

For many, observing nature can be a great source for being mental calm and emotionally centered. Do you have any advice for how to best do that from home?

I agree. We all love to see wildlife. It’s my job to see wildlife but I still get excited when I see it up close.

It’s a good chance for us all to slow down and hit the pause and take the time to learn about Colorado’s wildlife and how to behave around them. As always, keep a safe distance and don’t interact with wildlife.

There’s a lot of babies out there this time of year. An unfortunate thing that happens is that people scoop up baby wildlife – they think that they’re orphaned – and they in fact end up orphaning them. It’s a good reminder for everyone to give wildlife their space. Let them have this time which is critical to gain their food sources and raise their young.

Take the time to learn and appreciate what’s around you with a camera or behind a computer. Take advantage of it.

This conversation is part of KUNC’s Colorado Edition for April 16. You can find the full episode here.


KUNC's Colorado Edition is a daily look at the stories, news, people and issues important to you. It's a window to the communities along the Colorado Rocky Mountains.
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