Since the advent of motor vehicles, humanity has been on a collision course with wildlife. At a time when wildlife populations are rapidly declining, vehicle collisions with wildlife are on the rise. Each year thousands of animals are killed in British Columbia alone. The Ministry of Transportation in B.C. has estimated that as many as 200,000 animals were killed on provincial roads between 1992 and 2002. That does not take into account the number of deaths from trains either, which frequently kill wildlife along their transportation corridors. Unless a comprehensive strategy is applied to protect both people and wildlife, we can expect that disturbing trend to continue.
There are four to eight vehicular collisions with large mammals in Canada each hour. While accidents involving smaller animals such as squirrels, raccoons, owls, and eagles tend to be more detrimental to the animal than the vehicle, collisions with bears, deer, moose, and elk can be devastating to everyone involved. Animals frequently die either immediately or later as a result of their sustained injuries. Only a small percentage of wildlife have access to emergency medical care, such as that provided by the B.C. SPCA Wild Animal Rehabilitation Centre, which maintains a staff of trained technicians to assist injured and sick animals.
The monetary costs of vehicle strikes are equally staggering, impacting all drivers regardless of any accidents involving animals you may have had. The average cost of recovering and disposing of animals from the highways in B.C. is estimated at $770,000. Insurance rates also reflect the costs incurred from vehicle damage resulting from collisions, which is estimated to be 5-10% of the total insurance expense in Canada. A study conducted in the U.S. over a decade ago estimated the annual sum of wildlife collisions at USD$8.4 billion.
Fortunately, however, the risk of collision can be reduced by increasing awareness, modifying driving behaviours, and constructing animal passages in high volume areas. As a driver, the first act to assist in the reduction of collisions is to understand animals patterns of behaviour. For example, many animals such as deer are more active in the fall rutting season near dawn and dusk. Unfortunately in some parts of the world, that also coincides with morning and evening commutes, made even more challenging by the end of Daylight Savings Time. However, reducing speed during the season ensures that you are more prepared to react in the event that a deer does decide to step onto a highway. Additionally, many animals such as deer travel together in groups. If you see one deer crossing a road, reduce your speed in the event that another is following shortly behind. Many owls in B.C. are also active in the twilight hours, which also coincide with the morning evening commute of many residents. Wildlife rescue organizations often report an increase in vehicle strikes in the spring and fall as a result of the shift in daylight hours.
While drivers may not consider the impact of throwing trash, especially food waste, out of a vehicle many animals are attracted by the food and consequently struck by vehicles. Where good sense fails proper enforcement of laws is essential to ensure that animals are not made the unwitting victims of the inconsideration of some people.
As an example of thoughtful planning, six overpasses and over three dozens underpasses were constructed in high-traffic corridors in Banff National Park, which reduced the number of collisions by 80%. While fencing and reflectors have reduced accidents to a lesser extent, providing animals with a safe means of passage has proven to be the most effective means of protecting life. Although there is an obvious cost to such projects, the benefits must be weighed against the expenses we are already incurring and the tragic loss of both human and wild life.
As long as we chose to continue to use vehicles as a means of transportation, we have an obligation to protect wild animals. To date education, behavioural modification, and wildlife corridors have proven to be the most effective means we have available to ensure that we can coexist safely with wildlife.