Talk Road kills and parasites South Africa

Both ecto- and endoparasites (external and internal respectively) are interesting organisms that entail a lot of information on the health of their host, or lack thereof. One way of collecting, describing and studying parasites is to investigate road kills. South Africa has a high diversity of animals and every year we lose lots of them because of road accidents with vehicles. While collecting animals killed on the road might seem a bit macabre, the amount of information that can be collected from these specimens is vast and interesting.

Between July 2012 and May 2015, 375 road-killed animals were recorded on different roads of Limpopo province by the Biodiversity Research Chair team. Unfortunately, in most cases the bodies were too damaged to check for parasites or stomach contents. When the carcasses were not too damaged, they were brought to the Parasitology Laboratory at the University of Limpopo and checked for ecto- and endoparasites, as well as the stomach contents. In all cases the locality name, coordinates, host species, age and sex were recorded and a photo of the host was taken.

We tried to identify the road kills as good as possible, although in many cases the amount of damage made it impossible. These were then recorded as undetermined. Among the animals we could identify and record were 27 bird species, 5 domestic animal species, 11 carnivore species, 1 Chameleon species, 3 primate species, 3 rodent species, 1 hedgehog species, 1 hyrax species, 2 tortoise species, 1 freshwater turtle, 3 snake species and 1 frog species.

The road killed animals provided many interesting parasitology findings. For example, we recorded the first locality records in Limpopo of the acanthocephalan parasite, Moniliformis kalahariensis, in two road-killed Southern African Hedgehogs. This parasite was originally described in Botswana and never seen in South Africa before our study. The research team found road-killed Flap-necked Chameleon at the University of Limpopo (not many people were aware of their existence at Turfloop campus), surprisingly on a road with maximum speed limit of 30km/hr(!) also African Helmeted Turtle in a spot not recorded before. The finding of 45 long filarial nematodes under the skin of a road killed Striped Polecat found on the R71 was particularly interesting as these nematodes could be very pathogenic for the host.

In general, road-killed animals are a significant source of information on parasites and their feeding habits. Analysis of the data can also identify the hot spots for road kills in different areas. The results of these kind of studies can also help the conservation of our unique wildlife in South Africa.

Although comparison of results of study on road kills with animals dead from other causes or alive animals is tricky and most of the time impossible as most of the road kills we find are wild animals and sampling them for comparison with road kills data is most of the time impossible. But studying road kills in long term will solve this issue to some extent.

Road kills, Parasites, South Africa