When the pandemic hit, Robin Naidoo headed to his recreational property. Thanks to remote work, he’s been a full-time resident for the last year.
By Alyssa Noel
When Robin Naidoo first bought his place down Gun Creek Road, he never imagined he would be living there full time.
Six years ago, the Vancouverite was struck by just how unaffordable real estate in the city is and he decided to buy recreational property instead.
And then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“My partner and I came out and we thought, ‘We’ll be out here a week or two until things calm down in the city,’” he says. “We were well off the mark in terms of that estimation. Overall it’s just been fantastic. For me, what’s been really cool is even though I’ve had the place for six years, I’ve never spent as much sustained time up here.”
Robin also had one big advantage that allowed him to pick up and relocate on whim: he’s worked remotely for many years. It’s an option becoming increasingly realistic for people, particularly as internet connection improves in Bridge River Valley.
“I’m a research scientist for the World Wildlife Fund,” he says. “It’s a bit of a strange situation because I work for the U.S. branch; I’ve been working remotely for them from Vancouver for many years. In some ways, the remote working situation that COVID has brought has changed things for many people. That hasn’t changed for me.”
What it has changed, however, is his overseas travel. Instead, Naidoo has remained on the ground in the South Chilcotins, which has allowed him more time to work on a study he started in the area back in 2018.
A paper gleaned from that ongoing study, called Relative effect of recreational activities on a temperate wildlife assemblage, which was conducted alongside Cole Burton, assistant professor in UBC’s Faculty of Forestry and co-leader of the Wildlife Coexistence Lab, was released in fall 2020.
It shares data from 61 motion-triggered cameras that monitored wildlife activity in and around South Chilcotin Mountains Provincial Park for a total of 6,285 nights.
Overall, the goal is to look at how human activity and environmental conditions shape wildlife presence in the area.
Preliminary results in the study focused on 13 species with at least 30 independent detections—ranging from mule deer to red squirrel, wolf, coyotes, dusky grouse, and American martens, to name just a few. In total, 27 mammals, 32 birds, and one amphibian species were detected. The most frequently spotted was the mule deer (with 4,070 detections).
However, human activity surpassed all animals with over twice the number of mule deer detections.
The good (early) news is human activity didn’t seem to have a strong negative effect on the presence of wildlife, which was shaped more by the general environmental conditions around a camera. That being said, at a finer scale, wildlife were less likely to use trails directly after human use, a result that requires monitoring and further research into the future.
“The study we published was based on just one summer of data—from the first year of the study in 2018,” Robin stressed. “Meanwhile, that’s been continuing. I’ve just started replacing all the SIM cards and batteries in the cameras. My intention is to keep it going as long as I can.”
The idea for the study was first sparked when Robin decided to put up a few cameras around his property to see what kind of animals were slipping by out of view. He was surprised when the images turned up everything from families of cougars to lynx, grizzly bears, and wolves “on the same paths we used all the time,” he says. “That was the inspiration for thinking, ‘I’d like to see whether that’s true for all of Bridge River and South Chilcotins.”
While Robin is careful to say it takes years of data to draw any useful conclusions, it certainly didn’t take long for the study to yield some impressive photos.
There have been flying squirrels captured mid-air, a black bear with a fawn in its mouth, grizzly bears fighting and mating, and wolf pups that have actually been captured chewing on the equipment.
“What I get a kick of out of too is skunks and foxes,” he added. “While they’re common in cities, we don’t see them much out here. I’ve gotten to show photos of different species to people who’ve lived out here for many years and I get a kick out of them saying, ‘I’ve only seen one of those in 10 years.’ Apart from being scientific, it’s just fun to engage with people who live here regarding the wildlife we share.”
The study has further entrenched him in the area, but so has spending a full year there.
“I don’t anticipate being here full time for years, but who knows,” he says. “I didn’t anticipate being out here for a year-and-a-half. One way or another, I’ll have a presence here for the long term.”