It turns out humans aren’t that great for animals. Sure, we look after our cats and dogs, and get furious when someone’s beheading platypuses, but overall we’ve been fairly devastating for huge numbers of species across the globe. If you need more proof, have a look at what happens when we leave an area for some reason. The animals come back to these “involuntary parks”, and they thrive.
The DMZ between North and South Korea is blooming
Since 1953, a four-kilometre wide and 250-kilometre long demilitarised zone has existed between archenemies North Korea and South Korea. But where no human is prepared to tread for fear of their life thanks to all the landmines and barbed wire, endangered wildlife have found sanctuary. Red-crowned cranes, Amur gorals, musk deer and other animals have boosted their numbers in the narrow strip. Let’s hope it stays that way even if things get better between the countries.
The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is a radioactive wildland
After the nuclear disaster of 1986, the area around Ukraine’s Chernobyl – the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone – was declared off-limits to humans. Today, it’s still not safe for us to spend much time in the region, but that hasn’t stopped a multitude of animals from returning to live, eat and breed in the overgrown ruins of former settlements. They’re still affected by the radiation, but it’s hard to say exactly what’s going on with them.
Big game have returned to Gorongosa after Mozambique’s civil war
Once a private hunting reserve for Portuguese colonialists, Gorongosa was a fancy national park visited by Hollywood celebrities until civil war broke out in Mozambique. During the bloodshed, huge numbers of elephants, lions and other animals were slaughtered for ivory, food and sport. Since the end of hostilities, though, Gorongosa has made an astounding comeback, mostly because the animals’ habitats weren’t destroyed. In this case they’ve had a bit of assistance from us, with six bull elephants brought in from South Africa’s Kruger National Park in 2008, but the hippos and lions have come back of their own accord.
Chemical warfare led to a wildlife refuge in America
Back in WWII, there was a chemical weapons plant in Colorado that, understandably, caused some damage to the surrounding area with heavy metals and pesticides soaking into the ground. So the Americans upped stumps and moved away, fencing off the area. But when you fence people out, you also fence animals in – and so the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge is home to the descendants of deer, coyotes, prairie dogs and bald eagles who lived in the area back then. Well, obviously the eagles weren’t fenced in. You know what we mean.
Cats have taken over after Christchurch’s 2011 earthquake
Okay, “taken over” might be stretching things, but in the wake of 2011’s earthquake, affected areas were declared a Red Zone that people had to move out of. But since cats don’t listen to your rules about where they can and can’t go, they’ve been running wild in the area ever since. Red Zone Cats is a service, run by Dr Jane Newman, that helps hungry and lost felines with food, tests, desexing and getting them adopted. But that’s a sadder story than the Mighty Meow Empire we’re imagining.