Wildlife driven to their deaths by roads

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Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) is appalled at the frequent occurrences of roadkill affecting our endangered species. 

It has been reported that since 2011, wild animals such as civets, wild boars, marbled cats, tapirs and others are often killed in road accidents. Among wildlife, mammals make up the largest percentage of animals killed in these accidents, accounting for over 1,110 deaths. 

According to the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, the animals killed on federal, state and municipal roads involved 61 roads and highway networks in the whole country.

Not surprisingly, most accidents have taken place in or near forested areas where wild animals have tried to cross the roads to get from one forested area to another.

Despite SAM and other wildlife NGOs highlighting the harmful effects of roads to wildlife survival, road density continues to increase with roads criss-crossing the country.

While such infrastructure upgrades no doubt benefit the country, the same cannot be said for wildlife. Federal and state transportation departments continually devote huge budgets to construction and upgrading of roads without due consideration of the environment.

Multinational lending institutions such as the World Bank finance roads that dissect pristine rainforests, and usher in a flood of settlers that destroy both the rainforest and indigenous cultures.

Public land-managing agencies build thousands of miles of roads each year to support their resource extraction activities. 

Most public agencies disregard the ecological impact of roads and attempt to justify logging roads as benefitting the public and ironically, wildlife management.

The effect of roads on wildlife

The greatest threat posed to wildlife are vehicles along the highways. 

The highways themselves act as a displacement factor that affects animal distribution and movement patterns.

Animal population fragmenting occurs when access corridors that encourage development and logging traverse through the national forests.  

Poaching of rare plants and animals then occurs, threatening the very existence of the forests’ rare flora and fauna. 

Also, increases in traffic volume result in more collisions on any given road. And in our increasingly profligate society, more people mean more cars on virtually every road.

While unimproved and unpaved roads provide a measure of protection against wildlife, they are no less dangerous to the safety of the animals.  

Although the effects of different types of roads vary, virtually all are bad, and the net effect of all roads is nothing short of catastrophic.

While roadkill statistics take into account the number of animals killed, there are a number of statistics missing from the data presented.

For example, does it account for animals that crawl off the road to die after being hit? What about the number of reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates and birds?

Snakes are particularly vulnerable to roads, as the warm asphalt attracts them. What about the thousands of insects smashed on windshields?

Despite signboards on animal crossings, transverse bars, solar amber lights, animal viaducts, tunnels and pathways at locations with the highest number of roadkill, our wildlife continues to perish.  

The questions are: how effective are animal crossings in ensuring a lessening of roadkill; and have any studies been conducted to find the percentage of wildlife using the constructed animal crossings in our country? 

The Works Ministry and the Malaysian Highway Authority (MHA) must not turn a blind eye to the negative impacts of new roads and highways on the environment. Reckless planning and construction of new roads have a huge impact on the surrounding environment and the ecosystem.  

In fact, roadkill should not occur at all. With proper planning among the various agencies before construction of roads and highways through wildlife habitats, such occurrences could be limited and lessened immensely.    

Roadkill can be avoided if these government bodies show more concern for the importance of wildlife, their conservation and protection. 

When potential risks to the environment are identified and assessed, and management options thoroughly considered, road managers, planners and scientists can work together to determine where it is best to site new roads and minimise any ecological damage.

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