The goal of road ecology is: To provide planners with scientific advice on how to minimise or mitigate negative environmental impacts of transportation.
The uptake of road ecology in Africa has been slower than that of Europe, North America and Europe and is not a routine part of road construction or management. To date, South African road ecology studies have focused primarily on roadkill rates, with results highlighting the need not only for a greater understanding of the primary determinants of roadkill and its threat to biodiversity, but also the indirect effects of the country’s roads on wildlife. Although South Africa has a legislative framework that facilitates environmental impact assessment for the development and upgrading of roads, these tools have not been optimally applied due to the lack of capacity to ensure compliance and enforcement, and a poor understanding of the real impacts of these activities. The severity of the problem is very difficult to quantify due to little data being available, despite almost everyone having some ‘experience’ of roadkill, either through seeing it on the road, or being directly involved through an animal/vehicle collision. This is why it is vital that more research is conducted to fully understand the impacts of the possible threat.
Roadkill can be defined as an animal, or animals, that have been struck and killed by motor vehicles. It affects individual animals, populations, and many different species, as well as the people involved in the wildlife-vehicle collision (WVC). All forms of wildlife, from large mammals to insects, are vulnerable and all forms of transport, from passenger vehicles to trucks, have been reported to impact adversely on wildlife.
Roadkill itself is not, however, the only concern. Direct collision is the most evident due to its visual nature, but the disruption of ecological processes is equally important. Loss of habitat, habitat fragmentation, degradation of habitat, road and railway avoidance, increased human exploitation, reduced access to habitats, population fragmentation and disruption of processes which maintain regional populations are just some of the ways in which roads and railways can affect biodiversity.
Awareness of roads as a threat to wildlife was highlighted through South Africa’s first Road Ecology workshops, held in 2012, as well as a number of published media articles. We plan to continue to build capacity and find solutions to South Africa’s roadkill issues. While South Africa is fundamentally different to Europe and North America, application of the information and lessons learned in developed countries should be explored within the African framework.
WHAT HAS THE EWT DONE?
• In 1999, the EWT’s then Raptor Conservation Group investigated owl road deaths along the N17 near Devon on the East Rand. The project showed that grain spillage from trucks on the road was attracting rodents, which in turn attracted owls, so leading them to their deaths.
• In 2004 it was noted that owls were being killed in significant numbers on the N17 toll road between Springs and Devon (Ansara 2004). Research indicated that rodent populations were flourishing due to availability of good habitat and an abundant food supply from trucks spilling grain onto the road. Owls, hunting on the road at night, were consequently being hit by vehicles and killed. A survey in the Free State province identified a similar problem for the threatened African Grass Owl.
• In 2004, the project expanded to the N1/N4 Platinum Toll Highway. Again the focus was on owls, but this project showed that grain spillage was not the only cause of owls being killed on roads, and that in fact, where suitable owl habitat exists alongside the highway, owls are likely to be killed on the road.
• In 2010, a joint venture between the Endangered Wildlife Trust, Rhodes University and Tshwane University of Technology initiated a project that formed the basis for the future development of the first national multi-species monitoring protocol for the monitoring of roadkill in South Africa. This protocol was implemented in the Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area (GMTFCA) in the northern Limpopo Valley of South Africa, a World Heritage Site. Over a 120-day period, 1121 roadkill carcasses were identified from 166 different species. Of the 1121 roadkill detected, birds were the most commonly impacted species with 52% of the total sample. Mammals, reptiles and amphibians followed with 26%, 20% and 2% respectively. Medium-sized mammal species consisted of Honey Badger, Black backed Jackal and African Civet. Individuals of larger species included Brown Hyaena, Spotted Hyaena and Leopard.
• Additional data collected found five Cheetahs killed on roads adjacent to the GMTFCA between January 2006 and June 2009. In addition to other threats, predators such as the African Wild Cat and Spotted Eagle Owl are themselves vulnerable to being victims through foraging on roadkill carrion and becoming victims of secondary roadkill.
• Hosted the first annual Road Ecology Workshop (for road practitioners and researchers) in Durban and Johannesburg in 2012.
• Represented South Africa in Arizona at the International Conference on Ecology Transportation (ICOET) 2013.
Smartphone Cellphone App.
Awareness of roads as a threat to wildlife has been highlighted recently by the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Wildlife and Transport Programme (EWT-WTP). Consequently, public concern over roadkill and its impacts on biodiversity has been raised, with many individuals keen to provide assistance with reducing this threat. One way in which members of the public can help, is through the collection of field data which improves our understanding of the threat and helps to identify important areas for mitigation. Using volunteers to assist with data collection is becoming more recognised. Citizen Science, as it is usually termed, is an acceptable form of data collection by non-professionals that can have huge benefits.
The importance of data collection by the public is twofold; firstly it will greatly expand the ‘study area’ enabling the comprehensive identification of ‘hotspot’ areas throughout the country, and secondly, it will improve our knowledge of the impacts of roads so that effective mitigation measures can be applied.
Citizen volunteers have already been active through several forums such as social media. For example, the EWT’s Facebook site has 8, 000 ‘likes’; a roadkill research LinkedIn site which has over 400 members; and the EWT roadkill research blog; roadkill data submitted via email; and the recently launched cellular Smartphone app, “Road Watch” which enables the user to record roadkill.
Studies from overseas have shown that this new innovation has been effective in understanding the impacts of roads on wildlife. For example, the California Roadkill Observation System has 300 registered users and over 6,900 documented kills in California. This information is being used to determine sensitivity hotspots and propose mitigation measures in these danger zones.
If you would like to participate, type this link to the Safari browser on the phone:
The app will only work on phones that work off the Android platform at the moment but an Apple version should be available shortly.