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40 DAY AND 40 NIGHTS IN THE WILDERNESS: phase 2 of the roadkill research project has started!

October 9, 2011

Firstly, I have some fantastic news; Bridgestone have come on-board as supporters of the project and join E. Oppenheimer & Son (PTY) Limited; I’m extremely excited about the scope of this project now.

And so Phase Two of the Roadkill Research and Mitigation Project has started….

I’ve just returned from seeing my two supervisors at Rhodes University in Grahamstown. We spent a very industrious, if not, brain-frying three days, hammering out the statistical data from the preliminary roadkill studies conducted in March of this year. As a result we have devised a standardised method of detecting roadkill and plan now to implement it.

Evidence from extensive studies in North America, Europe and Australia indicate that roadkill is a real threat to a number of species, however there are currently no effective methodologies and no standardised methods for data collection of animals killed on roads.

Roadkill: facts and figures

 • Over 32 million kilometres of road transect the earth’s surface entailing enormous habitat loss and landscape fragmentation.

 • There are 754 600 km of roads in South Africa (65, 600 km paved, 689, 000 km unpaved.) These roads may bisect habitats, territories, and home ranges and separate feeding areas and den sites.

 • It is reported that a 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.

 • More than a million deer-vehicle collisions occur annually in the United States resulting in more than 200 human fatalities, 29 000 injuries, and $1.1 billion in vehicle damage costs alone.

 • On an average day in Michigan, a car brings down a deer once every eight minutes.

 • 5.5 million Reptiles are killed on the roads per year in Australia.

 • There are, at present, few data on the impacts to biodiversity of animal-vehicle collisions in South Africa.

Research on the impacts of roads on wildlife is fairly ad hoc and largely reflects the interests of individual researchers and not the worldwide adverse impacts on wildlife populations.There is currently no standardised method for roadkill data collection. Consequently, the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) has developed South Africa’s first standardised rapid assessment protocol for the detection of roadkill on South African roads. The protocol will be used to collect baseline measures of roadkill in an important conservation area in South Africa, namely the Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area. This assessment will identify the factors affecting roadkill rates, species composition and other variables that might affect roadkill, and provide the basis for a series of mitigation measures that can reduce the impact of road infrastructure and use on biodiversity, as well as contribute towards national norms and standards for future road design, maintenance and improvement. It will also provide information to better understand which factors contribute to roadkill and consequently to assess threats to biodiversity from roadkill in South Africa.

And so, we have devised our method that we deem to be the most cost and time effective way of detecting roadkill for all species. We suggest:

 • To drive at a speed of ~40k/ph

 • To start one-and-a-half  hours after dawn

 • The driver can also be the observer if driving at this speed • A transect distance of 100km, over a 40-day period. This is due to the study counting multi-species and the spread of diversity within these taxon. Birds were by far the biggest number of roadkill detected, and therefore need further distances to be driven and longer days spent on the road in order to represent the taxon as fully as possible

Photographing roadkill for data records (being careful not to become roadkill). Carcass of a black backed jackal.

We will also be sub-sampling within the transect and will be driving a 20km stretch of gravel road each day in addition to the 100km stretch of tar. Further, night-time surveys will be conducted that will start one-and-a-half hours after sunset and for a distance of 20km.

This will then be repeated in two other seasons. It has been decided to use ecological seasons (three seasons comprising of cold / dry, hot / dry, hot / wet) as opposed to the four traditional or meteorological seasons (namely Spring, Summer Autumn and Winter). Ecologically speaking, a season is a period of the year in which only certain types of floral and animal events happen as oppose to meteorological seasons which are determined by temperature, with summer being the hottest quarter of the year and winter the coldest quarter of the year.


Hot / Dry September – December  (sample in October 2011)

Hot / Wet January – April (sample in February 2012)

Cold / Dry May – August (sample in July 2012)

Source: Zambatis, 1987.

Hence the title of the phase of fieldwork – ’40 days and nights in the wilderness’. I’m really excited to be back out in the field, and if ‘excited’ is the right word, I’m looking forward to the challenges of trying to identify each squashed roadkill. It’s going to be long hours, tiring with sometimes, frustrating days, that can become monotonous due to the repetition. But, it’s incredibly important to collect this data. The EWT’s Roadkill Research and Mitigation Project will provide a greater understanding of the threat of roads to wildlife, and the magnitude of this threat. With this in mind, a variant to the age-old question may finally be put to rest:

Question: ‘Why did the chicken cross the road?

Answer: ‘To get safely to the other side!’

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