ROAD ECOLOGY IN AFRICA: STATE OF THE SCIENCE AND FUTURE DIRECTIONS TO ACHIEVE A SUSTAINABLE TRANSPORTATION SYSTEM.
Linear infrastructure (such as roads, railways and utility easements) dissects all continents and influences biodiversity and ecosystem processes for many hundreds and even thousands of meters. Combined with vehicles, their effects on wildlife are often negative and profound. In the past two decades, research on the effects of roads and traffic and the use and effectiveness of mitigation works (e.g. fencing and wildlife crossing structures) has increased dramatically in Europe, North America and Australia. However, the uptake of road ecology in Africa has been slower and it is not a routine part of road construction or management. Most road ecology research in Africa has focused on the rate and location of wildlife mortality and includes a small number of studies from South Africa, Zambia and Botswana.
The mortality of wildlife due to collision with vehicles in Africa is the fifth greatest threat to wildlife (after human conflict, habitat decline, interspecific conflict, and disease). However, little attention has been given to this threat, with most effort focusing on quantifying the effects of collisions on humans. This is of significant concern, particularly in South Africa, which is the third most biologically diverse country on Earth.
Africa is fundamentally different to Europe and North America and the information and lessons learned in these developed countries are unlikely to be directly applicable. Major differences exist between the species of wildlife, landscapes and geography, the density of roads and humans, and funding and support for road ecology research and mitigation measures. Additionally, roads are integral to the financial development and prosperity of the local and national economy and there is a potential conflict between development and conservation. The recent conflict over the proposed Serengeti Highway highlights these challenges in developing countries. Further research and discussion is required to ensure roads are ecologically sustainable and improve people’s livelihoods and recent work suggests that these two aims (development and conservation) are not always mutually exclusive.
ROAD ECOLOGY WORKSHOP
We have recently returned from two extremely successful and innovative road ecology workshops. The first was hosted at the International Wildlife Management Congress in Durban, and the second was hosted by the Endangered Wildlife Trust at their headquarters in Modderfontein, Johannesburg.
The purpose of the two workshops was to explore the impacts of roads and traffic on wildlife and showcase innovative and practical solutions. We were extremely lucky to have two world-renowned road ecologists providing expertise at both of our workshops, Dr Rodney van der Ree from the Australian Research Centre for Urban Ecology, University of Melbourne, and Dr Daniel J. Smith, from the University of Central Florida. Both workshops were extremely well attended with wildlife representatives from across the world as well as delegates from our national roads agencies.
Rod introduced us to the concept of ‘Road Ecology’ – a well-used term in the rest of the world, but new to Africa. He also provided some extremely helpful data on mitigation measures that have been successful in other parts of the world. Dan provided more detail on the impacts of roads globally highlighting how much work has been done over the last 20 years.
Claire Patterson-Abrolat (of the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s newly formed Wildlife Transport Programme) presented an African perspective, highlighting the need for greater study and that Africa really is the ‘dark continent’ for road ecology, with studies being mainly focussed in southern and eastern Africa.
Road ecology studies conducted globally and in Africa
We also had some excellent case study presentations. Susie Weeks of the Mt Kenya Trust, elephant project, flew in especially from Tanzania to give us a fascinating talk on the elephant corridor in Mt Kenya. This corridor has allowed elephant herds to move safely from one section of the park to another, therefore avoiding crossing of a busy highway.
Elephant underpass in Mt Kenya
Kerryn Bullock provided a more localised study looking at the impacts of roads on birds and mammal on the R360 on the Upington to Twee Rivieren main road in the southern Kalahari, South Africa. During the 6 month period 184 road mortalities were recorded from 22 species: 152 mammals and 32 birds
Kerryn Bullock: top number of mammal and bird species detected
And of course, the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Roadkill Research and Mitigation Project presented preliminary data from the recent fieldwork with statistics that shocked many of the delegates.
As a result of the two workshops, the EWT’s Wildlife Transport Programme will be collaborating with road agencies as well as other interested parties to develop a 5-year Action Plan that will start to address some of the ideas discussed during the workshops. The feedback from the attendees was outstanding and it’s an incredibly exciting time for future work that will examine, not only the impacts of roads on wildlife, but airstrikes, railroads and shipping.
Thank you to our presenters and all of you who attended the workshop especially to our road ecology cousins from overseas. We look forward to working with you further and developing a plan of action that will keep our wildlife safe on roads.
Photo credit: Robyn Joubert, Farmers Weekly.
From left to right: Wendy Collinson, Rodney van der Ree, Daniel Smith, Harriet Davies-Mostert
Details of the workshop will be uploaded onto the EWT’s website.