When it comes to motoring safety, our country’s horrific human road death toll justifiably grabs most of the headlines. But there’s an equally grim picture for our wildlife, with countless creatures – from big game to birds – falling victim to traffic, even in nature reserves, and casually lumped together under the catch-all expression “roadkill”.

That’s why a groundbreaking survey of roadkill in South Africa is being rolled out nationally. The project is helping to inform how we deal with this problem in future and is likely to have lessons for the rest of the world, too.

The Bridgestone-sponsored survey is being extended countrywide after a pilot phase in the North-West. The focus has been shifted to Addo, in the Eastern Cape, following  highly successful Pilanesberg National Park surveys in late 2014. “We have targeted five parks across the country in which we will be doing these surveys,” said Wendy Collinson, who runs the Wildlife and Roads Project for the Endangered Wildlife Trust. Lined up after that are the Kruger National Park, Table Mountain and Hluhluwe Umfolozi.

The roadkill surveys consist of detailed studies by researchers to establish what numbers and types of wildlife are killed by passing vehicles. The eventual outcome of the project will be a report detailing ways in which conflict between animals and vehicles can be reduced. In many cases only the animal is harmed, but when larger wildlife such as buffalo or elephant are involved, the outcome can be fatal for vehicle occupants too.

“We hope these recommendations will find use across the world, not only in South Africa,” Collinson commented.

The survey methods include questionnaires to gauge driver attitudes and habits, as well as observation. In the Pilanesberg survey, “fake” animals were placed on the roads. Hidden observers noted driver reactions. What they found was that roadkills in nature reserves quite frequently take place because the driver is distracted by wildlife along the roadside and is not watching the road as carefully as usual. Increased speed doesn’t necessarily result in more road kills, supporting the hyphothesis that  driver attentiveness  is the big problem.

It’s not easy going being a roadkill researcher, either. During the Pilanesberg survey, inquisitive elephant were drawn to traffic counting devices. An inquisitive elephant can cause a lot of damage, researchers found. So, to keep the elephants at bay a daily coating of pepper and oil had to be applied to the devices.

Source: Bridgestone South Africa