By Vishal Gulati
New Delhi, May 27 (IANS) An estimated 10,000 wild animals — representing more than 100 species of reptiles, amphibians, mammals and birds — were crushed to death annually on a 3.6 km, two-lane road that passes through a Unesco World Biosphere Reserve in Canada.
Not any more.
With $2.7 million in government and private funding, a 10-year community-led project on Lake Erie in southwestern Ontario has used special fencing, “eco passages” and public awareness campaigns to dramatically reduce “fatal interactions” between vehicles and wildlife.
The project holds lessons for India where roadkill mortality of wild animals, especially tigers and elephants, is common.
As recently as last month, 31 wild vultures feeding on a cow on a rail track in Jorbeer — the largest vulture site in Asia that falls on the migratory route of raptors from Eurasia and Mongolia — in Rajasthan’s Bikaner district, were killed when a train mowed them down.
A paper of the Canadian success story, “Mitigating Reptile Road Mortality”, published on Friday in the journal Wildlife Society Bulletin, estimates that 89 percent fewer turtles and 28 percent fewer snakes now venture onto the road.
The road, or causeway, separates Long Point Bay and the marshy wetlands of Big Creek National Wildlife Area, all part of the Unesco World Biosphere Reserve.
While amphibians were by far the most common casualties, the biggest concern was the number of dead reptiles, particularly at-risk and endangered species such as Blanding’s turtles, snapping turtles, Eastern foxsnakes and others.
“With most of the causeway now fully fenced, the average number of turtles venturing onto the road has dropped by 89 percent and snake numbers are down 28 percent,” Chantel Markle, a McMaster University biologist who led a research project, said.
Markle and her co-investigators also studied wildlife activity in several aquatic and terrestrial culverts — special tunnels of different sizes and materials constructed under the causeway to allow the natural movement of turtles, snakes and other animals.
This project can be replicated in other areas that report roadkill.
Co-investigator Scott Gillingwater, a species-at-risk biologist with the Upper Thames Valley Conservation Authority, said: “The success story documented in our study is very important because it offers a model that can be used and adapted in other areas where road mortality threatens important wetlands biodiversity.”
In 2003, the recurring annual carnage earned the Long Point Causeway the dubious distinction of fourth-place ranking on a list of the world’s top turtle road mortality sites (after two sites in Florida and one in Montana).
Built in the 1920s to create land access to the beaches on Long Point, the causeway has presented a near century-old hazard for turtles needing a place to lay eggs, to reach summer habitat and to find winter hibernation sites.
Often female turtles, which only reach reproductive age in their teens, use the gravel shoulders for nesting, making them and their hatchlings especially susceptible to cars.
The paper says the construction of exclusion fencing began in 2008 and, two years later, most of the causeway was fenced, despite daunting challenges presented by the marsh and lake shore conditions.
Soon, overall reptile road kill numbers had fallen by half and by 60 per cent for important species-at-risk reptiles.
Quoting insurance industry statistics the paper says in the US alone drivers report hitting one million to two million animals every year — figures that don’t include millions of unreported collisions with smaller animals like turtles, raccoons or squirrels.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)