The global lockdown to mitigate COVID-19 pandemic health risks has altered human interactions with nature. Here, we report immediate impacts of changes in human activities on wildlife and environmental threats during the early lockdown months of 2020, based on 877 qualitative reports and 332 quantitative assessments from 89 different studies. Hundreds of reports of unusual species observations from around the world suggest that animals quickly responded to the reductions in human presence. However, negative effects of lockdown on conservation also emerged, as confinement resulted in some park officials being unable to perform conservation, restoration and enforcement tasks, resulting in local increases in illegal activities such as hunting. Overall, there is a complex mixture of positive and negative effects of the pandemic lockdown on nature, all of which have the potential to lead to cascading responses which in turn impact wildlife and nature conservation. While the net effect of the lockdown will need to be assessed over years as data becomes available and persistent effects emerge, immediate responses were detected across the world. Thus initial qualitative and quantitative data arising from this serendipitous global quasi-experimental perturbation highlights the dual role that humans play in threatening and protecting species and ecosystems. Pathways to favorably tilt this delicate balance include reducing impacts and increasing conservation effectiveness.