Despite the fact that collisions with vehicles on African roads pose the fifth-greatest threat to the continent’s carnivores, little attention is given to mitigating road ecology measures, which is of particular concern in a country as biologi- cally diverse as South Africa.
Conclusions from the recent Endangered Wildlife Trust’s (EWT’s) Wildlife and Trans- port Programme (WTP) road ecology workshops have underlined the need for a five-year dedicated action plan that focuses specifically on collaborative efforts to facilitate the safe migration of local fauna.
Linear infrastructure such as roads, railways and utility easements often intersect migration routes, which influence biodiversity and ecosystem processes across substantial tracts of land.
Over the past two decades, research on the effects of roads and traffic on wildlife, as well as the use of mitigation efforts, such as fencing and wildlife-crossing structures, has dramatically increased in Europe, North America and Australia. The uptake of road ecology in Africa is, however, far slower and not a routine element of road design, construction or management.
“In developing States such as South Africa, roads are often perceived as sym- bols of development, with the social and economic needs of the country often taking precedence over ecological requirements,” explains WTP manager Claire Patterson-Abrolat.
The five-year action plan, which will be developed as an outcome of the local road ecology workshops, will outline measures to be taken in the mitigation of the negative ecological impacts of road networks, outline research needs, identify measures for consideration as well as promote the development and adoption of best-practice guidelines for developers and landowners.
Possible mitigation measures appropriate to the South African context include the routing of new roads through areas of insignificant environmental value and developing underpasses or overpasses across roads to facilitate the safe crossing of animals.
In addition, Patterson-Abrolat explains that adaptations to existing structures, such as culverts, can be made to make it possible for animals that have certain skills, such as climbing, to cross roads with greater ease.
“Road ecology does not simply allow wildlife to cross roads safely, but also enables ecological processes to continue functioning, ensures that habitats are not fragmented and guarantees that the genetic flow within a species is not disrupted,” she explains.
At the recent workshops, EWT Road Kill Research and Mitigation Project member Wendy Collinson shared her findings around road kill surveys conducted over the last year in the Greater Mapungubwe area, in northern Limpopo.
Driving 100 km daily for 120 days, she recorded more than 1 100 road kills, which comprised 166 different species and illus- trated the extent of wildlife fatalities on national roads.
As a result of the two workshops, the EWT’s WTP will collaborate with road agencies and other interested parties to develop an appropriate long-term action plan.