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February 27, 2011

We’ve just completed our first two weeks of speed trials for the roadkill project, whereby we looked at the most effective speed to drive at to detect roadkill. As obvious as it may sound, one needs to maximise the amount of roadkill found without having to take all day about it. There therefore has to be a desired speed that will still allow you to detect roadkill as well as complete a route in a required time! Incredibly my trained eye was still able to pick up small roadkill at 100kph, but this isn’t ideal to work at this speed. By the time you’ve managed to stop the vehicle, so that you can record the roadkill, you’ve driven almost half a kilometre on from it. Not very economical!

So, we’re working at a speed of between 40 and 50kph, and have now started work on the actual transect. The route we take starts each morning and drives a 90km circuit. With a combination of dirt and tar roads, the selected roads are important with different traffic utilisation. There is a lot of farm traffic, lorries and heavy vehicles destined for the mine, as well as the steady trickle of tourists destined either for the Botswanan border or the nearby World Heritage SiteMapungubwe National Park.


Recording roadkill data


 The surrounding properties of the transect are fenced either with electric, game or cattle fences, all containing wild game, livestock, or the Big 4 (Rhino, Elephant, Lion, Leopard), to name but a few. Just because a property has a fence surrounding it, does not ensure that animals will not cross through it, and on to the road. I am therefore recording as much detail in my data as possible which includes the type of fence on the roadside as well as the vegetation, and grass height! This could be important when it comes to making recommendations for future road improvement, road verge condition and fencing in protection wildlife.

I expect to notice differences in roadkill species across the seasons, since much animal behaviour is dependent on certain times of the year for breeding or migration. The beautiful Carmine Bee Eater, who is a temporary visitor to this region at this time of year, has already been one of the many bird roadkill fatalities I have noted on the transect. The Flap-neck Chameleon also appears to be a roadkill casualty for this time of year. Usually resident in trees, the only time the chameleon is likely to be found on the ground is when it is seeking a mate, or when females are looking for soft soil to lay their eggs. 

The photograph taken of the chameleon roadkill shows its telescopic tongue, which is able to extend its full body length out of its mouth.


 I have seen dozens of chameleon inching their way across the roads over the last few weeks, with most making it (hopefully) across. There have been a substantial number that haven’t made it and have become one of my roadkill statistics. Interestingly, their bodies don’t last long on the road, since I am also monitoring decomposition rates of roadkill and keep a record of how long each roadkill lasts on the road. Existing chameleon roadkill are often not present the next day that I drive, which suggests to me that they are providing tasty roadkill snacks for their predators, such as the Ground Hornbill, Vervet Monkeys, Monitor Lizards, and raptors, to name but a few. Incidentally, I recorded a Vervet Monkey roadkill – these are intelligent animals and are usually capable of avoiding traffic, so I wonder if this juvenile Vervet Monkey was a victim of secondary roadkill, and was feeding on roadkill already on the road – I can only guess!

Juvenile Vervet Monkey roadkill

5 Comments leave one →
  1. February 27, 2011 3:58 pm

    Go for it Wendy…but don’t start cooking your subjects!

  2. Harriet permalink
    February 28, 2011 12:55 pm

    Great to hear that you have started the trials. Interesting to hear what you have been finding so far – you must be learning so much about the species that you find. Looking forward to seeing your results over the next few weeks.
    (PS I agree with Peter that all’s fine until you start scraping the roadkill up for supper!)

  3. CurlyKim permalink
    February 28, 2011 4:27 pm

    Sounds like you’re making good progress. Hope all continues well.

  4. March 2, 2011 9:10 am

    It sounds like your trials are really coming together Wendy. I look forward to hearing more of what you find. Keep up the good work!!

  5. Helen Rowarth permalink
    March 3, 2011 9:57 am

    A very interesting write up Wendy. I was amazed at how many variables you were looking at and how useful your findings would be to such a diverse section of the community. Hopefully this will bring you lots of sponsorship.

    I appreciated the links to find out more information about particular animals but being lazy I would have liked to have seen a snapshot on the right hand side of all animals referred to in the text.

    I look forward to the next one.

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