Tag Archive | "roadkill"

Photo of zebras for the National Geographic series called Great Migrations

Great migrations threatened by Tanzanian highway

Photo of zebras for the National Geographic series called Great MigrationsNational Geographic has once again captured our imagination with Great Migrations, a seven-part series that takes viewers along on the arduous journeys millions of animals undertake to ensure the survival of their species. Viewers are mesmerized with images shot from the air to underwater and enraptured with the powerful stories of our planet’s species and the great migrations they embark upon to find food, shelter and mates.

A major part of the huge wildlife migrations through Tanzania and Kenya occurs within the Serengeti National Park, and is considered the greatest natural wonder of the world.  Millions of wildebeest, zebras, elephants, rhinos, gazelles, and predators like cheetahs and lions teem across the landscape as far as the eye can see; instinctively following paths established over thousands of years of evolution.

This May, the Tanzanian government announced plans to build a 300 mile east-west highway through the northern part of the park, slated for construction in 2012.  Tanzania’s president, Jakaya Kikwete believes the $480 million project would improve transportation and boost economic activity by linking two of its key towns — Arusha, near Kilimanjaro and Musoma on Lake Victoria.  However, Kenya is opposed to the Serengeti road project, saying it would affect the annual wildebeest migration, a key tourist attraction.  More than 100,000 tourists visit the Maasai Mara during the migration months between July and October and any interruption is likely to hurt Kenya’s economy.

“Wildebeest have a problem crossing roads which have heavy human and vehicle traffic, there is nothing elsewhere in the Serengeti with this high capacity for traffic,” said Mr Gideon Gathaara, a Kenyan Ministry of Wildlife official.

Scientists are saying that a road like this could lead to the collapse of the Serengeti ecosystem, as well as a collapse of tourism in the region. Though the proposed road would be gravel, the presence of increased traffic would disrupt wildlife to the point of their avoidance of the area, would lead to roadkill especially at night, would be even more damaging to wildlife by being fenced, and would most likely result in paving the road in the future.  Several conservation experts have publicly condemned the plan, as has the United Nations World Heritage Committee.

Internationally known wildlife biologist Richard Estes said the price of a road through the Serengeti is too high: “There’s not only the hazards of animals being killed by vehicles, which is serious, but more dangerous is the unplanned development that will follow — the building of towns and strip development — which is increasing human influence and access. The poaching is already serious and this will make it a whole lot easier.”

Wildlife conservationists and advocates are anxiously awaiting the results of Tanzania’s feasibility study, due out in January 2011. Can we save the Serengeti or will this great migration be relegated to the pages of history?

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Photo of deer crossing a road

Is America on a crash course with wildlife?

Photo of deer crossing a roadEvery year, State Farm releases their top ten worst states for deer vehicle collisions.  The 2010 list held no surprises with West Virginia in the number one slot for the fourth year in a row. Drivers in West Virginia face a 1 in 42 chance of hitting a deer sometime in the next 12 months.  The list is perennially dominated by Midwestern states, including Iowa, Michigan, the Dakotas, Wisconsin and Minnesota.  Montana, Pennsylvania and Arkansas – also states with abundant white tail deer – are also there.

America has had a long standing love affair with cars. Ninety five percent of American households have at least one car and we spend about 20 percent of our income on transportation. We’ve built more than four million miles of roads, providing us with unprecedented access and mobility.  But our mobility comes with a price, for both people and wildlife.  Wildlife vehicle collisions claim the lives of 200 Americans and result in 29,000 human injuries every year. Recent estimates indicate between 725,000 and 1,500,000 animals are struck on our roads annually and when we include smaller species such as amphibians and reptiles, the body count goes up to a million vertebrates a day.

Roadkill is nothing new, but statistics show the numbers are increasing dramatically. While the number of auto accidents has remained steady, the number of wildlife vehicle collisions has increased by 50 percent over the last decade. The miles traveled by U.S. motorists increased just two percent in five years, but the number of deer vehicle collisions jumped 20 percent in that same time period. Wildlife-vehicle collisions now represent one out of every 20 reported motor vehicle collisions, and they occur every 26 seconds.

Wildlife vehicle collisions put a dent in our wallets too.  The average property damage cost of each accident is $3,103.  When you add in the loss of work and medical costs, those numbers rise even higher.  The Western Transportation Institute estimated a collision with a deer costs an average $7890, while an elk hit costs $17,100 and a moose hit costs a whopping $28,100.  Add to that the costs of law enforcement, emergency services, road maintenance crews and wildlife management personnel and the total annual cost associated with wildlife vehicle collisions is nearly $8.4 billion.

Are wildlife vehicle collisions a necessary evil?  As long as there are cars on the road, we may never completely eliminate accidents, but we can take measures to reduce the frequency and severity.  Just like many of our roads now include guard rails to prevent cars from veering off, we can include structures to allow wildlife to move safely across the landscape without endangering passing motorists.  Wildlife underpasses and overpasses allow animals to get where they need to go by passing under or over highways without entering the right of way.  Some transportation agencies have begun building wildlife crossings but we have a long way to go before it is standard practice.

Congress can help state transportation agencies make that transition by adding wildlife-friendly provisions in the upcoming highway bill reauthorization. With the midterm elections behind us, many believe the highway bill is one of the few bipartisan efforts with a chance for success in a contentious Congress.  As luck would have it, two of the State Farm top ten states have congressional delegates in key positions on the committees in charge of reauthorizing the highway bill.  Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) chairs the Environment and Public Works committee and Congressman Nick Rahall (D-WV-3rd) is expected to claim the ranking member position on the House committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.  They have a tremendous opportunity to help their states and American motorists across the country by instituting policy changes to reduce wildlife vehicle collisions and avert a crash course with wildlife.

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dotWild is the blog of scientists and policy experts at Defenders of Wildlife, a national, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities.