A Busman’s Holiday!
By Wendy Collinson, EWT’s Wildlife and Roads Project Officer
I read with great sadness that 1 755 people were killed on South Africa’s roads between 1st December 2015 and 11th January 2016. This represents an increase of 14% compared to the same period last year.
It is estimated that road crashes cost around ZAR 307 billion every year. However, it is impossible to determine with accuracy what percentage of vehicle crashes occur as a result of wildlife-vehicle-collision (WVC), as insurance companies have not yet grouped these accidents into distinctive categories. Whilst insurance claims compensate vehicle owners, little is being done to limit the negative impacts on animals. A pertinent question in this regard is how we can conserve our country’s wildlife on the roads when South African human-road-fatalities are among the highest in the world?
Roads are integral to the continued development and prosperity of our economy. However, roads could also destroy and degrade habitat, as well as fragment wildlife populations. Traffic, particularly when reckless driving is involved, can have a direct negative impact on wildlife, with many species at risk from WVCs, often resulting in an animal’s death, or ‘roadkill’.
The Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Wildlife and Roads Project (EWT-WRP) has improved our understanding of the impacts of road infrastructure on wildlife in South Africa over the last six years. Through our work, we have been gathering roadkill data from across the country. We have also raised public awareness of the impacts of roads on biodiversity through media campaigns, relevant social media platforms and by engaging with relevant stakeholders.
It is with this in mind, that even when I am technically ‘on-leave’, I find it difficult to switch off from our work, and find my eyes constantly scanning the road for injured or dead animals. Over the holiday period, my partner and I drove from Limpopo to Cape Town, taking our time to explore the West Coast. Wow! I was awed by the amazing, rugged and unspoilt parts of our country. The remoteness and apparent isolation was a wonderful feeling. We drove along dirt roads, overlooking the wild Atlantic Ocean, with the feeling that no-one else had been there. Sadly this was not the case, as the evidence of other road users was very evident despite the lack of vehicle presence.
We recorded numerous wildlife casualties along this remote stretch, including a Bat-eared Fox, Striped Polecat, Owls, Sand Snakes, and even an Ostrich. A Busman’s holiday with tragic events!
We urge you to exercise caution when driving on roads, even in remote areas. Always be alert for unpredictable events involving an animal on the road, and report any roadkill sightings to firstname.lastname@example.org
Our thoughts and condolences go out to all the families who have lost someone on the roads during the holiday season.