Roadkill: a global epidemic

Posted on 14 August 2013

The Burchell’s coucal flew into the side of my car, tumbled through the air and hit the ground with a thud. It must’ve been in the dense bush along the road and got a fright when I drove by. There was nothing I could do, it had been killed instantly.

Staggering numbers of animals are killed on roads every day. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, but other times it’s just a matter of being aware. Wendy Collinson of the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) undertook a piece of groundbreaking research when she started counting wild animal casualties on a 100 kilometer stretch of road in Limpopo in 2011 and 2012. She counted 374 roadkills from 81 species over 30 days; 13 percent were mammals, including brown hyena and black-backed jackal.

Animals are attracted to roads for various reasons. Snakes bask on them, herbivores are attracted to the dense vegetation on the roadside, rodents thrive on grassy verges, birds come to swallow bits of gravel which aid in digestion, and scavengers such as vultures and crows often end up as roadkill themselves while feeding on it.

South African data is still limited, but reports from other parts of the world indicate that vehicles are a major threat to wildlife globally. It’s estimated that at least a million animals are killed each day on highways in the United States and 5,5 million reptiles are killed on roads in Australia annually.

The EWT is continuing its research (5 endangered animalsan how you can help), collecting data and identifying factors that affect roadkill rates, so we can find clever ways to reduce the impact roads have on wildlife.

You can help by reporting roadkill to the EWT (tel 011-372-3600, email [email protected]. za), but prevention is always better. Next time you hit the road to a holiday destination, drive within the speed limits to increase the time both you and the animal have to react. Slow down and hoot at animals that have been momentarily blinded to coax them into fleeing, and avoid littering so that food thrown out of your car doesn’t create a roadside feast for scavenging wildlife. Be especially alert at dusk and dawn and take care when you see one animal crossing the road – it’s possible others are following.

You can ask why the guineafowl crossed the road (the same reason the chicken did?), but while the answer will remain a secret, all travellers should be on the lookout for animals trying to get to the other side.

Sources: Endangered Wildlife Trust. Environment: People and Conservation in Africa (Summer 2011, Issue 9).

(Photo by Wendy Collinson, EWT.)

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