Talk HIT AND RUN Reducing Wildlife Vehicle Collisions in Protected Areas

The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) has strived to raise public awareness of the impacts of roads on biodiversity through media campaigns, extensive social media platforms and by engaging with relevant stakeholders. Initially our attention was focused on road impacts on wildlife outside of protected areas, since traffic volume is higher and collisions are often more visible and more threatening to human life. However, reports from various social media platforms have indicated huge public concern for wildlife-vehicle collisions (WVC) inside protected areas. Consequently, in 2014 we initiated an assessment of WVC rates within selected protected areas in South Africa, with an emphasis on using park visitors to provide citizen science data. However, expert data collection remains the most reliable source of information about impacts. For example, 97% of the 143 WVC events we recorded in Pilanesberg National Park in 2014 were obtained from systematic surveys by our project team. This illustrates the critical need to raise public awareness about wildlife on all of our roads.

Of almost 700 questionnaire surveys conducted with visitors to protected areas, more than 95% of respondents to the questionnaire survey believed that speed was the main cause of WVCs. However, traffic monitoring devices deployed within the parks showed that 72% of park visitors (n=6,981) complied with park speed limits driving at or below the speed limit. We postulated that WVCs were likely to occur because drivers were either unaware of their surroundings or travelling too fast to avoid collisions. To investigate these factors, we placed two fake animals (a snake and an amphibian) on a 40 m section of road in two National Parks. We used traffic monitoring devices to record the speed at which the vehicles were being driven, and observational techniques to assess the position of the driver’s head (looking straight ahead at the road or to the bush at the side) as well as the driver response to the fake animal  (a ‘hit’ or a ‘miss’). Of 201 vehicles, 67.7% of the drivers were not looking at the road, but rather scanning the bush for wildlife, and 49.6% of vehicles hit the fake animals. This suggests that WVCs in national parks happen primarily because of the expectation that animals are to be found in the habitat alongside the road, rather than on the road itself and that improving driver observation of the road, rather than the speed of the vehicle, is the key factor in preventing a WVC.

Protected areas, fake animals, questionnaire surveys, driver awareness, citizen science