Thursday, February 14, 2008

Caught in the Headlights: Wildlife on Our Roads

The other night, my headlights flashed on a deer at the side of the road, but she'd been hit and was quite obviously dead. Since her head was still in the way of traffic, I called 911. Because of that scene, and so many others like it, I thought I'd post something from last summer. I believe the message is important, so instead of calling it re-posting, let's call it re-gifting.

On Sunday, I drove past three dead raccoons--one large, two quite small--grouped together at the side of the road. Whenever I see roadkill, I imagine a possible scenario: After foraging for food, a mother raccoon makes her way back to her children only to be struck by a car. But on that particular Sunday morning, it was the entire family of raccoons who lost their lives. It makes me incredibly sad to see wildlife so senselessly killed (although it's hard to think of a senseful killing).

According to a study by L.P. Tardiff & Associates for Transport Canada, motor vehicles may be the number one predator of wildlife. Some statistics from Wikipedia:

"Merritt Clifton, editor of Animal People Newspaper estimated that the following animals are being killed by motor vehicles in the United States annually:

41 million squirrels
26 million cats
22 million rats
19 million opossums
15 million raccoons
6 million dogs
350,000 deer

Often, there's not much a driver can do to avoid hitting animals that venture onto the road, especially at night. Animals react differently--a rabbit's frozen bewilderment as a car barrels toward it; a deer's unexpected jog to the left when we expect it to go right. So it's up to us to take precautions.

What drivers can do:

Ease up on the gas pedal when driving through wildlife areas. Look for the yellow, diamond-shaped warning signs.

Watch for movement at the roadside, and slow down when you see any. It's far better to use your brakes than to use your wheel as swerving may result in the loss of control.

Be aware that wildlife is most active at dawn and dusk.

Watch for the car's headlights reflecting off the animal's eyes. Often drivers will see the shining eyes before they see the animal.

Anticipate unpredictable behaviour from all wildlife.

What governments can do:

Build wildlife underpasses and overpasses. On the Trans-Canada Highway, through Banff National Park, 24 underpasses and overpasses have been constructed--the largest scale wildlife passage in the world. Since 1996, more than 50,000 large mammals have used them, and animal-vehicle collisions have dropped by 80%.

Erect animal crossing signs on high-risk stretches.

Invest in heat-seeking cameras that detect animals and warn drivers when one is ahead, or wildlife warning systems that use alternating sounds and lights to scare animals when vehicles approach.

For more information on reducing the risk, check out this site:

Wildlife Collision Prevention Program

Let me know if there are other measures we can take to keep our wildlife safe and alive.


Heidi the Hick said...

Have you ever seen those little whistles people used to stick to the front of the car? I don't think they're available anymore. I heard (can't remember where) that they work by funneling air through, which makes a sound to warn deer to run away. Don't quote me on that though, because this is all something I "heard". The problem is that the whistles work on horses too, which makes a nice trail ride down the road kinda dangerous.

We really do have to keep our eyes open. Even in town, wildlife is everywhere.

Squirrels, though, I really don't understand. You see one at the side of the road, and just when you get close, it dashes across the road. Death wish???? Risk taker??? Adrenaline junkie????

Lynn Sinclair said...

Well, I 'heard' that those whistle thingees don't work. Who knows? If you've found they scare the horses, then perhaps they do work.

Yeah, we've got some Kamikazi squirrels, don't we? The piles of snow at the edges of the road don't make it any easier.

jan said...

Good post to remind people that there are steps we can take to avoid becoming killers of living beings.

Lynn Sinclair said...

Thanks, Jan.

Georgie said...

>>>Look for the yellow, diamond-shaped warning signs.<<<

These signs are quite clear -- and posted there for a reason. Whenever I see this sign, I'm always on the lookout for either one deer, or perhaps a doe and her fawns.

For me, if you can obey a sign that says: Children Crossing or Play Zone, why not slow down for "Deer Crossing" as well?

Like children, these beautiful creatures need us to look out for them.

NuclearToast said...

So I immediately headed out on the intarwebs to see what information I could find on the effectiveness of deer whistles. While hardly conclusive, these three articles seem to indicate that they don't.

One other simple cure for car-animal interactions? Don't drive. I know that's hardly a choice for you Canucks and your igloos, but I'm still throwin' it out there.

Lynn Sinclair said...

So right, Georgie. I have to admit that I get a little freaked when I have to drive at night along unlit roads or highways.

Lynn Sinclair said...

Lol, NT. You know, I could always leave the car in the garage and just haul out the dog sled.

Carolyn Burns Bass said...

Hit the target with me, Lynn. I'm in Kansas right now visiting my son in college here and this morning we saw a beautiful deer lying dead beside the highway. Only the night before we'd seen one just about the same size standing beside the road. Deer on the SoCali roads isn't common, so this was especially poignant.

Lynn Sinclair said...

It's heartbreaking to see, Carolyn.

Anonymous said...

I'm so agreed with you. In 2003 I lived in the country, drove an hour to work; an hour to get into the city, and saw so much roadcarnage during that time,it was heartbreaking. I was so sickened I moved back to the city so as not to have to see it all the time. My e-address, habitatforall@hotmail,was established at that time, and i promote the establishment of parks in areas of high housing developement to give the local wildlife a place to be. Parks provide oxygen, a place for recreation, and increase property values.

Lynn Sinclair said...

Good luck to you, Anon. Sounds like a great cause.