One morning recently, I was alerted to a not so agile wallaby laying on a nearby road. A fresh road kill from overnight. These creatures, graze on urban lawns and as from the pictures below are generally doing well, as is my lawn. Animals like small children aren’t able to recognize the risk from that moving box heading towards them, or they simply don’t look.
Each year in Australia many thousands of collisions occur between animals and motor vehicles, resulting in massive loss of animal life, vehicle repair costs and injury or death to drivers or passengers. There is however, no ambulance service for the animal. There is no vet or paramedic who rushes in to put in two large IV cannula, a chest tube, to start cardiopulmonary resuscitation, apply a pelvic binder, given analgesia and maybe a bag of blood, and scoop off to hospital for emergency care and surgery. Thankfully, there are groups like WIRES who provide care for some of these injured animals.
Generally, no one intentionally runs down an animal crossing the road. There are of course exceptions, this young man who ended up being arrested and justly charge with animal cruelty. Following a collision, you may have to face the time needed for healing of injuries and the cost of vehicle repairs. The cost to vehicles alone has been estimated by an Australian insurer to be around $21 million annually. Rowden et al in Road crashes involving animals in Australia shows that wallabies and kangaroos make up almost 45% of all road kill. These authors also discuss various counter measures including ultrasonic repellents and note there is little evidence for efficacy. Helena Bender did her Phd Thesis on such equipment if you would like more detailed reading. Apparently, a sound akin to a thumping kangaroo thump may make a better deterrent.
This diagram shows many of the interrelated factors that contribute to animal and vehicle collisions.
Roads by their very nature are hazardous to creatures. They divide native population ranges, act to funnel animals towards hazards, and water run off leads to greener vegetation and better grazing opportunities. Food discarded by drivers attracts animals, and ultimately, an injured or killed animal may attract carrion feedings. As reported by the Guardian, Tasmania has recently launched a roadkill campaign to reduce 500,000 native animal deaths. Research from Tasmania suggests that dropping the speed from 100 to 80 km/hr at specific black spots, may reduce animal casualties by 50%, whilst only adding 3 minutes to a journey from Launceston to Hobart. Here is a very interesting infographic on animal victims with statistics from 2012 notes casualty figures amongst Tasmanian creatures, for example 3392 Tasmanian devils per year.
Taylor and Goldingay in a 2010 paper entitled Roads and wildlife: impacts, mitigation and implications for wildlife management in Australia discuss how far Australia is lagging in protecting it’s native fauna against carnage on the roads. Speed limits are one thing but infrastructure such as under and overpasses may well save animal lives. This article from a Singapore newspaper highlights the hazards to Australian animals and visitors; warns of outback roads littered by roadkill.
Intuition back up science by showing under drought conditions, more kangaroos appear alongside roads. Lee et al showed that kangaroo density increases 10 fold alongside roads with resulting increase in vehicle impact. Night time, corners and fences were all factors in accidents. In some species, they found more victims to be male, which place more pressure on populations. To me, better lighting, slower speeds seem to be sensible options to reduce fatalities and vehicle injuries. Of course, you could just apply a herbicide or predator scents up along the road verge but Australia is a big country.
Australia is not alone with road kill problems. In New Zealand, introduced possums litter the side of the roads. I gave up counting on one road trip. Some of course would suggest that this is not such a bad thing for an introduced species. In Canada it is moose, deer, bison, beer and foxes. In Africa, it includes all the zoo favourites such as lions, cheetahs and zebras and even elephants!
Conflict of interest
I have in my 30 years of driving all over Australia, accidentally collided with just two kangaroos, a cow, one dog, several birds (not emus) and no humans. My first occasion to hit a kangaroo was driving in a battered HQ station wagon to Coral Bay in Western Australia in 1985. This happened on a night where there was hundreds of kangaroos abounding. The unfortunate macropod dived into my only working headlight making the remainder of the journey quite slow using my parking lights. The second in a Pajero, on Kangaroo island, happened in steady rain with hindsight I was driving too fast for the conditions. The cow collision as driving back to Port Hedland from Newman on a very dark night. I had just dipped my high beam for oncoming traffic, when it’s rear-end appeared in from of me. I wasn’t hurt but the WA Health Nissan Pintara was totalled.
I also have a friend who has published this book on how to prepare and present road kill for consumption.