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The uses of roadkill!

October 13, 2011
Due to scavenging and removal of roadkill the actual numbers of species killed on the roads are difficult to measure. Roadkill detection is affected by tampering, either through natural or man. For example, drivers remove roadkill from roads for either food, muti (traditional medicine in South Africa) or trophy.

There are little published data or studies available with regards removal or scavenging of roadkill. However, there are reports (mainly in newspaper columns) regarding uses of roadkill, which therefore supports the hypothesis that roadkill is removed for a number of reasons.

Roadkill collected over a 30-day period - showing amount from each taxon that had disappeared by the next day

Roadkill has become part of our pop culture. Google ‘roadkill’ and you will get more than 1 million hits, ranging from roadkill cafes (with the tagline, ‘You kill it, we grill it’), animal roadkill statistics, roadkill pictures, roadkill forums and even a band called ‘Roadkill’. There is even a game called ‘Roadkill Bingo’, a game played traditionally on long-car journeys whereby 24 different pictures of animals are placed randomly on a grid, and as in regular bingo, the players have to ‘collect’ as many animals as they can.

Roadkill Bingo T-shirt

roadkill toy
Roadkill is sometimes used as an artform with several artists using traditional taxidermy preparation in their works. Stephen Paternite has been exhibiting roadkill pieces since the 1970s (Wikipedia, 2011), whilst Jess Eaton (Mail Online 2011) uses roadkill to make jewellery. Her pieces include a fascinator made from rat skulls, an iridescent hat made from magpie wings, and a billowing cape made from the tail of a shire horse.

Roadkill jewellery / accessories

Kevin Beresford travels around the country in Great Britain taking pictures of dead animals for calendars entitled ‘Roadkill’. Whilst this has caused great controversy in the UK, Beresford’s aim is to raise the profile of roadkill, albeit through humour and novelty. BBC News (August, 2010) report the removal of roadkill in Scotland (mainly badger and foxes) for the use of kilt sporrans.

Badger roadkill used for a sporran

Kaplan (2011) recognises the educational value of roadkill. An educational program started in North America, called ‘Dr. Splatt’ teaches a type of science hard to find in text books. The goal of the program is not just to teach children to identify dead animals, its aim is also to teach students about technology, their environments, and the live animals around them. Adams (1983) recommended a similar idea, he states, that ’ biology teachers, as well as students, need discovery opportunities’ and through using roadkill as a teaching resource will ‘make a positive impact on teaching effectiveness.’

Bear roadkill
Roadkill Computer Game

According to Klein (2011), eating roadkill, whether you consider it reasonable or gross, is certainly one of the most responsible meat sources available. Many people won’t admit to eating roadkill, despite some blogs and recipe books devoted to the cause. Woulfe describes in her article, “why one mans carrion is another man’s duck”, how to cook a hedgehog that has been killed on the road. (Woulfe, 2011). Mail Online, United Kingdom, (October 2010) equates roadkill to ‘beans on toast’, raising the point that some students ‘survive’ on roadkill, since they are too poor to buy food, whilst Sunday Magazine in New Zealand (December 2010) notes that roadkill is ‘dead tasty’ and suggests roadkill recipes.

The Southern (October 2010) reports on policy changes in America that require drivers who hit deer to report the incident and then they can claim the deer for either food or trophy.

Deer – common roadkill in North America

Case (1978) suggests that motorists may have picked up the road-killed deer because of high prices and shortage of meat in 1973 whilst high fur prices may have resulted in the removal of coyotes (Canis latrans) and racoons (Procyon lotor) and possibly other fur bearers. Bonhatel et al. (2007) suggest collecting roadkill and using it for compost.

Roadkill compost

A more scientific approach to roadkill is its use to determine mortality caused by vehicles and impacts and populations. Case, 1978, and Caro et al., 2000 argue that roadkill can assist with wildlife census. Roadkill data, after controlling traffic volume, can be useful as a population trend index. One such example is a study examining the population trend index of raccoon dogs killed on roads in Japan.(Sacki & Macdonald 2003). Illinois (USA) skunk population has increased eight of the last 10 years, based on roadkill data. (Owen, 2011). Counts of road traffic casualties have also been proposed as one potential method of monitoring changes in the abundance of several mammal species in Britain, in particular red foxes (Vulpes vuples), (Baker et al., 2004). Researchers in South America are using roadkilled animals to assist with the research of disease transmission. Deaths of wild animals in the form of roadkill is considered one of the biggest causes of the loss of wildlife, especially species at risk of extinction. The use of these animals for research is advantageous because there is no need for anaesthesia or euthanasia (Karpova, 2011). Additionally the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (USA), have been analysing roadkill samples of deer and elk and have confirmed Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in the species (Pisciotta, 2011).

Stoat hiding in a storm drain on Britsh roads

With regards removal of carcasses, it is difficult to determine the percentage removed either naturally or by man. Personal observation has shown roadkill being scavenged by an African Wild Cat and Brown Snake Eagle, as well as other birds of prey. From pilot studies of roadkill detection, we noted almost 50% of roadkill detected on the previous day had been removed by the next. This suggests that there is a greater number of roadkill on the roads going undetected due to immediate removal. Antworth et al., (2005) and Ford & Fahrig, (2007) both suggest that roadkill survey counts have a degree of bias due to natural scavengers. Slater (2002) noted in observing fresh roadkill time on the road, that corpse retention was about one hour form when it was first ‘hit’ to when it was scavenged and removed. Further he suggests that the ‘gross’ casualty rate in comparison to the ‘net’ number of animal casualties is 12-16 times greater. Taylor & Goldingay, 2004 noted in their trial of decomposition that when leaving fresh roadkills on the roadside, they confirmed removal of carcasses of between 30-50%.

On one of our roadkill surveys, we found a brown hyena that had been killed by a car. Upon further examination, we observed that the tail had been chopped off. Ingrid Wiesel of the Brown Hyena Research Project in Namibia (2011), states that hyena body parts are used for muti (traditional medicine). The belief being that if you burn the tail and hold it under doors so that the smoke goes inside, people inside fall asleep and this makes it easy for burglars to steal property undetected.

Brown hyena roadkill with tail removed

Roadkill has numerous practical (and some bizarre) uses. However, removal of carcasses from the road suggest that roadkill numbers are actually far higher than many surveys suggest, and a understanding of bias needs to be incorporated when conducting roadkill surveys.

Road markings around roadkill .... avoiding the problem!Road markings around roadkill …. avoiding the problem!

Global Road Kill 2012 calendar
Can you believe it, our best selling calendar two years running has been ROAD KILL. A calendar dedicated to all the courageous critters that never quite made it across the road in time. Can I point out here – at no point have we deliberately maimed or killed any animal in the production of our unique calendar. We just like to record in pictorial form and in all innocence the unfortunate little beasties’ demise. For 2012 we have decided to go global and dare I say respectable. A South African organisation the EWT (Endangered Wildlife Trust-Roadkill Research and Mitigation Project) has accepted and conceded our unusual product could help raise world awareness to the plight of animals around the globe who have fallen victim to road kill. Our quaint & eccentric English calendar has caused somewhat perverse mirth around the globe, but even we accept that a wasted weasel from Worcestershire is nothing compared to a majestic flat-lined lion on an African plain.
Lion by roadside in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa

I have tried to analyse the appeal of my ‘Road Kill’ calendar – as previously stated it has in fact been our best selling calendar over the web two years running (no retailer will touch it with a barge pole). Studying the addresses of our customers – we seem to attract a large rural cliental with numerous farm households. The sort of people who are not overtly sentimental when it comes to animals perhaps. Then we have quirky types who like to gently wind-up their friends and loved ones with a unique and bizarre gift. At no point over the years has anyone complained to us about our deceased beastie product. Although, the RSPCA once ordered a copy but sent no reply back. We assumed they too thought it quite amusing.

To obtain world pictures of road kill we have sought help from our supporters from around the world. Asking them for a degree of understanding and cooperation. I have to reiterate this is all for a good cause. We requested from our helpers, pictures of road kill from their respective countries. We didn’t want a stark, bloody, overhead shot. We felt a poignant little scene depicting the unfortunate animal’s departure, would be fitting. Special thanks must go to Wendy Collinson who is doing sterling work down in Africa in documenting the effects of road kill on wildlife.

Roadkill calendar

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