DAVIS (CBS SF) – Months of sheltering in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic has led to significantly fewer wild animals becoming roadkill, including California’s mountain lions, a new study finds.

Analyzing traffic and collision data, the study by researchers at the University of California, Davis found that 58 percent fewer mountain lions were killed in the 10 weeks after shelter-in-place went into effect compared to the preceding 10 weeks.

“The reduction in numbers of wildlife killed is surprising, and is a silver lining for both wildlife and people at this difficult time,” Winston Vickers of the California Mountain Lion Project said in a university statement.

While the cats live throughout the state, mountain lion populations are at risk in Southern California due to habitat loss, wildfires and other threats. Earlier this year, the California Fish and Game Commission voted 5-0 to declare mountain lions as possible candidates to be placed under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA).

Researchers said the number of large wild animals killed on California roads each day dropped 21 percent after the orders to slow the spread of coronavirus went into effect. Traffic on all state roads dropped by 71 percent during the shelter-in-place, but traffic has been increasing as more businesses reopen.

Meanwhile, the researchers also analyzed roadkill data in Idaho and Maine during their stay-at-home orders. The number of large wild animals killed on Idaho roads dropped by 38 percent, while it dropped by nearly half on Maine roadways. The study suggested that further traffic reductions could lead to thousands fewer large mammals becoming roadkill each year in the three states studied.

The study is the latest from the school showing ecological impacts as the coronavirus pandemic forced most people to stay at home. Earlier research found shelter-in-place orders led to a huge dip in California’s greenhouse gas emissions.

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