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A Roadkill, Spotted……….

December 1, 2010

Spotted hyena and young

An SMS I received from Andrew Rae of Mopane Bush Lodge at 6 o’clock this morning alerted me to yet another carnivore road kill on the R572 near Mapungubwe National Park.  Andrew was driving out of the lodge when he passed a juvenile Spotted Hyena, dead on the roadside. Initial assessment from the blood on the road showed that this animal did not die on impact, but had dragged its smashed body to the road verge where it eventually died. Whilst this is in no way a unique incident, it demonstrates one of the many adversities that larger carnivore species have to face in a world dominated by man.

 Many people are not big fans of hyena, fueled at least partly by the Lion King movie’s largely inaccurate portrayal of them as the ‘bad guys’, they are often seen as ugly, cruel scavengers.

 The truth is that this animal is the most successful of the large carnivores in Africa and is equally adept as a hunter and scavenger. As the second largest carnivore in Africa, it is a formidable hunter and its large neck and head, strong teeth and powerful forequarters are adaptions for carrying carcasses and crushing bones.

 Whether you like them or not, it is still sad to see one of these amazing carnivores dead on the road, particularly when we have little idea of their current population figures in the Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area (GMTFCA). Rox Brummer of the Endangered Wildlife Trust is currently finalising her results of a two-year long census study of the carnivores occurring in the area, with one of the study species being the spotted hyena. Her results may well show that this species is abundant in the area and thus more likely to be found wandering on the roads, ready to become another victim of road-kill.

 How many of us have lain awake at night whilst sleeping in a tent in the African bush and have enjoyed hearing the whoop of a hyena? Will future generations be able to enjoy this sound if these amazing animals continue to get hit on roads?

Spotted Hyena roadkill

 

Spotted Hyena roadkill showing hit and drag marks

 

A FACT…….

The Humane Society of the US and the Urban Wildlife Research Centre state that one million animals are killed each day on highways in the United States. These statistics do not account for animals that crawl off the road to die after being hit, and nor do they account for all species.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Harriet permalink
    December 1, 2010 8:22 pm

    This is horrible, but really good that you are documenting it. It will be interesting to see what else happens around the national park.

  2. December 3, 2010 3:00 pm

    This sounds like a project that has been needed to be done for a very long time Wendy. Good luck with your amazing work.

  3. Jonas permalink
    December 5, 2010 9:50 pm

    Maybe the animal was hit by more than one car or dragged by a human there? It could be that local people moved the animal to butcher it for muti.

    It seems unlikely to me that road kill in southern Africa, an incredibly open area with many natural reserves, is going to impact a population as is suggested above. And how would studying road kill ever prove that in any case?

    Seems an interesting chat around the dinner table but I struggle to see the hard science and conservation investment in it…

  4. December 6, 2010 11:22 am

    Thanks so much for looking at the site and making a comment. You have made some very valid and relevant points. With regards to the hit itself, yes, it could well have been more than one vehicle that hit the hyena, but it seems more likely that it was a truck given the extent of the damage to the body and the singular drag marks on the road. We have quite a large amount of trucks coming through on this section of road, many of them destined for either the Botswanan or Zimbabwean borders, and we have had some large mammals killed due to them.

    Muti is a very interesting point too. I doubt this was a muti killing since the body was intact, that is, no sections had been removed. I have found though previously a brown hyena that I suspected was used for muti, since its body was intact with no broken bones, and its tail had been removed. There was no evidence of a ‘hit’, which suggests it had been discarded by the road. Interestingly, I suspect there are more mammals than we actually realise that are being hit on our roads and either being removed for muti value, pelt or bush meat purposes. We know that animals utilise the roads, and I see warthog and antelope on the roadside frequently…. and yet, to find one of these is quite rare. I therefore think they are being removed before I get to them.

    And finally, onto your point regarding the conservation value of roadkill and whether roadkill rates are having an impact on populations. This is the whole crux of the study and why what you have said is so important. We don’t actually know if roads are having an impact on populations but what we do know is that whilst South Africa is a large country with large fenced reserves, animals will cross boundaries whether a fence is there or not, and these ‘large’ areas are becoming more and more fragmented. Loss of habitat is a cause of decline in many species, and roads that ‘cut’ through large conservation areas are adding to the problem. Take the road through the Serengeti for example. Many species have natural dispersal routes and if a highway is placed across it, then there is a possible impact on the population, since they will still cross the road. What that impact will be, we don’t fully understand, since roadkill has not been studied in great detail in South Africa. So, the conservation value of understanding roadkill is actually huge. For example, the African Wild Dog is an Endangered species, with approximately 500 left in South Africa. I found 6 wild dog roadkills in the course of 1 year in my study area…… combine this with the other reasons for wild dog decline such as loss of habitat, threat from other predators as well as canine diseases, means that roadkill is a contributory factor to their future conservation status. We know that free-roaming wild dogs can disperse over huge distances to form new packs, and they have to cross roads. ‘Open areas and natural reserves’ do not guarantee safety or protection against vehicles on roads. A full-scale study though will place us in a better position to understand roadkill rates, what species are most at risk and hotspot areas of the country. We can then make informed recommendations regarding road construction and repair to protect certain species that may be at risk. A conservation investment? I think it’s worth it!

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