Road kill continues to be a problem in many of our national parks, but perhaps nowhere as much as the Kruger National Park, where the sheer amount of vehicles that enter the park often collide with its abundance of wildlife.
Gaynor Badenhorst (First published in SANParks Times, March 2015)
Yet, people are mistaken when they think that it’s only due to speeding. “Sometimes people drive fairly slowly, but by looking for game they miss the chameleon, tortoise, elephant dung loaded with dung beetles or bird flying directly in front of the vehicle,” says the park’s conservation manager, Dr Freek Venter.
“People just don’t keep their eyes on the road all the time.” On the other hand, Dr Venter says that some animals are also very focused on their own doings, like hunting lilac breasted rollers, which focus so much on grasshoppers in the road that they don’t watch out for oncoming traffic and are sometimes killed.
Furthermore, roads create the ideal habitat for many animals due to the runoff of rainwater; more green grass equals more grasshoppers, equals more insectivorous birds, equals more road kills. At night, again, nocturnal animals are blinded by vehicle lights and are easily killed if the driver is not careful and experienced at night driving. “For this reason, staff is strictly forbidden to drive at night, but with the current poaching onslaught against our rhinos, night-driving by SANDF, SAPS and our own rangers is inevitable,” he says.
The species of animals most killed also differ between day and night times. During the day insects, snakes, chameleons, birds such as rollers crossing the road or hunting insects, as well as dung beetles mostly fall victim. Venter says it is rare for larger animals such as impala, steenbok or bushbuck that run in front of vehicles to be killed. At night, nocturnal birds such as night jars, thick knees as well as hares are killed the most. Some animals such as baboons and starlings are very clever and stay out of vehicles’ way.
If caught, offenders can be given a stiff fine or charged with reckless driving in a court of law, but incidences are very rarely observed by witnesses, and if observed people often do not report such incidences or don’t have enough info such as the car’s registration no, says Venter. “In severe cases people have been banned form Kruger for extended periods.”
While the huge extent of Kruger is a challenge to understanding exactly how many animals are killed by vehicles, there are research projects in the pipeline to try and quantify road kills and give management a better understanding of how to manage it better.
In the meantime, awareness, limiting driving at night and continuous enforcement of the speed limit may reduce road-kill but, chances are good that it will never be stopped completely.
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