To fence or not to fence?

I was joined the other night for the post-dusk 20km transect by two volunteers from Galagos Wildlife Conservation.

Peter Nitschke from Australia and Hilton Brandao from Brazil, are here for two weeks to assist with the tracking of the lions on a nearby reserve. They fancied seeing a ‘different’ angle of research and asked to come out one evening with me to see what it was that I did.

Hilton had completed a biology degree so was pretty au fait with data collection, so I explained in more detail what data we were going to collect and why. I gave the GPS to and clipboard to Hilton and set off…….

The post-dusk transects are to assist with understanding more about when species are being hit. Through driving, pre-dawn, at dawn and post-dusk, we can start to see patterns in what species are hit when and also how quickly roadkill is disappearing from the roads.

We drove the entire 20km but didn’t see a single roadkill. What we did see was a breeding herd of over 30 elephants wondering down the tar road towards us. Hilton and Peter were incredibly excited as they had yet to see a large herd of elephants. I had to point out to them that the elephants were not supposed to be there, and that they had clearly just broken down a fence somewhere and wandered out.

Elephants on the tar road

We pulled off the road to allow the elephant to pass, but were then overtaken by another car, driving extremely fast. The moon had yet to rise, so there was no light, and the elephants ‘trumpeted’ and started to run as the car approached. Fortunately, they all avoided each other, but it had been very close.

This is certainly not the first time that the elephants have been ‘for a wander’, and whilst there were no human or wildlife fatalities this time, there have been occasions where elephant have been injured and drivers killed. Fences are there for a reason, but they do not always keep animals in.

Whilst I am studying the impacts of roads on wildlife, there are many other man-made things that impact on wildlife, one of which I encountered when returning from a morning transect.

The reserve on which I live is surrounded by electric fences as it contains ‘Big 5’ animals. Surrounding my house is an electric fence and an electric cattle grid. When I drove home, I saw that the cattle grid was ‘shorting’ and that something was trapped in the wires; it was an enormous Monitor Lizard.

We tried to remove it, but its mouth was clamped tight around a wire.

Its back was scarred from electrical burning, and it was dead.

A study of electric fences was conducted by the EWT examining which species were most at risk, with possible solutions to preventing mortality. Leopard Tortoises, Rock Monitors, South African Python, Pangolin and Porcupine were the most common species killed on the electric fences.

So, whilst fences are designed to protect wildlife from roads, they can often be at the detriment of an animal – is it a case of swings and roundabouts!

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About wendy collinson

Originally hailing from the UK, Wendy gained her Bachelor of Education in 1990, and spent 15 years teaching Physical Education in London to high school students. She moved to South Africa in 2005, beginning work as a research assistant with large carnivores, working on research projects initiated by the Endangered Wildlife Trust. Wendy’s education background has stood her in good stead as a tour guide, since she believes in an interactive approach, engaging guests in specialist carnivore research tours. In addition to her research and tours, Wendy is also the main organiser of the aptly named “BIKE4BEASTS” mountain bike race, organised annually to raise funds for the Endangered Wildlife Trust (www.bike4beast.coza) Wendy is a field worker with the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Wildlife and Transport Programme. She recently completed her Master’s degree at Rhodes University, Grahamstown South Africa, which examined the impacts of roads on South African wildlife.
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