The world’s 30 million kilometres of road, which carry some 750 million vehicles, take a terrible toll on human life, but they pose a grave risk to animals too.
The Wildlife and Roads Project, run by the Endagered Wildlife Trust (EWT), is encouraging members of the public to act as "citizen scientists" and help with roadkill data collection by reporting any they come across in their travels along the country's roads.
This data will greatly increase the study area, and help the EWT identify roadkill hotspots and species at greatest risk, so they can motivate for mitigation measures like wildlife crossings (safe overpasses and underpasses) to protect animals.
Wendy Collinson, Project Executant of the Wildlife and Roads project, says that although the EWT’s focus is on wildlife, they are interested in getting reports about domestic animals too – in fact, information about any roadkill is potentially valuable.
“Livestock-vehicle collisions are a significant risk on rural roads, and of course also affect human safety,” says Collinson.
She urges citizen scientists to look out for all vertebrate roadkill, even the seemingly insignificant.
“The data we’re getting is somewhat biased because people tend to report on the bigger, charismatic fauna – both because they seem more important and because people simply don’t see them. But many smaller animals like tiny frogs and rodents die on our roads and it’s vital we get data on them as well.”
Insects, too, become roadkill, either crushed under vehicle tyres or smashed against windscreens. Collison says that, while of considerable interest, invertebrates are currently beyond the scope of the project.
Examples of notable fauna that frequently gets flagged as roadkill include the bat-eared fox, the striped polecat, the civet and the leopard toad. Large mammals such as leopards and cheetahs have also been recorded.
Wendy Collinson of the EWT recording roadkill data.
Roads impact wildlife in multiple ways
Roadkill is the most visibly obvious and shocking impact of roads on wildlife, but they put stress on animals in other ways too. Roads, with their associated noise and pollution, act as barriers to many species who baulk at crossing them: this interferes with food foraging and hunting patterns, as well as seeking mates.
Roads criss-cross the landscape and fragment it, often dividing animal populations into smaller unsustainable groups in the process. Habitat is lost to road surfaces, and the construction of roads disturbs plant and animal communities.
Predators like this eagle-owl may be drawn to roads to feed on roadkill.
How to submit roadkill data
1. Specify the roadkill’s location as precisely as possible (preferably with GPS co-ordinates), record the date on which it was seen, and take a photo of the animal; if a photo isn't possible, then submit a description. Only take a photo if there’s space to pull over and it’s safe to do so.
2. Send photos and related info to email@example.com, or via the EWT's Road Watch South Africa smartphone app. The South African iTunes store also offers a facility to download the EWT's Road Watch app for iPhone users.
Members of the public who accurately record and submit the most roadkill sightings between 1 November 2014 and 31 January 2015 stand to win prizes, including Desert Fox 5L fuel cells, halogen spot lights, off-road tyres, Zeus zs2100B helmets, tyre repair kits and a year’s membership to the EWT.
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Photo credits: Wendy Collinson, EWT
Olivia Rose-Innes is Health24’s EnviroHealth Editor. Read more of her columns and articles or post a question to her expert forum.