Mobile app aimed at reducing roadkill in South Africa

Submitted by: Nadia Shah, Monday, April 7, 2014

<p>The Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Wildlife and Transport Programme is a conservation effort aimed at reducing the impact of roads on South Africa’s wildlife. (Source: EWT)</p>

The Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Wildlife and Transport Programme is a conservation effort aimed at reducing the impact of roads on South Africa’s wildlife. (Source: EWT)

The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) has launched a Roadwatch South Africa smartphone app as part of their Wildlife and Transport Programme (WTP), which aims to reduce the impact of roads on wildlife. The programme follows the latest trend, citizen science, which calls on the public to report the location, species and date sighted of dead animals who have fallen victim to traffic via the app, social media or by emailing the EWT directly. To date, the combination of reports via email, LinkedIn, Facebook, SMS, Whatsapp, ispot, and the app have yielded almost 1000 records of roadkill. 

The public’s perceptions

According to WTP’s Field Officer, Wendy Collinson, increased awareness of the issue has triggered public interest and South Africans are beginning to take road kill more seriously, “Everyone sees roadkill on the roads, but through highlighting it, the public are now being ‘trained’ to see it more often”. Collinson also noted that a common misconception is that only incidents with large species are considered as roadkill while frogs and snakes, although highly prone to road fatalities are not viewed as roadkill by the public, a perception the EWT is hoping to change.

How will the data be used?

The data submitted through the app and other forms of social media will be used towards the EWT’s  Roadkill Research and Mitigation Project which aims at reducing the impact of transport on wildlife. Data will be used to determine roadkill patterns over time and space which will provide a useful mechanism to evaluate the efficiency of mitigation tools at targeted hotspot sites. The EWT anticipates that this will lead to more cost effective, long-term roadkill monitoring and mitigation in parks.

Roadkill findings

According to Collinson, South Africa’s protected areas, intended for the conservation of fauna and flora have been identified as roadkill hotspots. Tourism in protected areas accounts for 7.9% of South Africa’s GDP and so the challenge lies in developing an efficient transport network within protected areas that meets the needs of tourists but also supports conservation.  “We are working on forming partnerships with road agencies to gather data and therefore be in a better position to mitigate,” said Collinson.

In South Africa, the WTP has observed seasonal roadkill patterns with the most roadkill occurring during migratory and breeding periods from January to April due to heightened animal activity. Despite traffic volumes being lower at night, nocturnal species are the most threatened due to reduced visibility. These include mammals such as Aardwolf, Black-backed Jackal, African Civet, Scrub Hare and Bat-eared foxes and birds such Owls and Nightjars. In addition mammals which are blinded by headlights such as buck species are also susceptible to collisions.

The EWT’s expert research revealed that Amphibians are also highly threatened by roadkill, especially during migratory periods when hundreds are run over. As one of the most under recorded groups, more data of Amphibian roadkill is needed, however unfortunately due to their size and quick disappearance from the road, they often go unnoticed by the public.

Reptiles are also under threat and drivers should be cautious of tortoise, chameleons, monitor lizards and snakes. Collinson had suspicions that some snake roadkill is intentional, “We did a pilot study and placed some fake roadkill on the road. We observed driver behaviour and noticed that some people deliberately swerved to drive over snakes”.

Successful Roadkill Mitigation Projects

A project aimed to protect the endangered Western Leopard Toad in Noordhoek, Western Cape has successfully eliminated the species’ road mortality from 23.7% to zero after the complete installation of a 500m barrier which prevents toads from climbing the fence and reaching the road. Open buckets have been buried at regular intervals along the fence and are emptied by volunteers during peak hour traffic. Once the traffic subsides each evening, the buckets are sealed, allowing toads to walk the fence until the end and to cross at ‘safer’ points.

According to Collinson, in terms of roadkill mitigation projects there is a lot that South Africa can learn from other countries, “I went to a conference in the States last year and met other road ecologists working in other countries, and realised that whilst SA is about 20 years behind the rest of the world, we can catch up, and not make the expensive mistakes they have made – but learn from them”.

Plans for a global roadkill app

The EWT has plans in the pipeline to develop a global roadkill app in collaboration with other countries who have similar mobile applications. This will allow international tourists (almost 10 million a year) to participate. It will also give South Africans the opportunity to report data while they are visiting abroad, and thus contribute to the global threat.

What precautions can drivers take to prevent collisions with wildlife?

  • Drive slow to give yourself and any animals you may encounter more time to react.
  • Be extra vigilant near animal crossing warning signs.
  • Avoid distractions, keep your full attention on the road.
  • Get into the habit of scanning the roadside for approaching animals.
  • Drive a little slower at night and if you spot an animal dim your lights and hoot. Car headlights can blind animals so that they don’t always move away.
  • If an animal is in your path, brake firmly but do not swerve to avoid it. Sound your horn in a series of short bursts to frighten it away. Provided you can slow down with control, steer around the animal but stay on the road if possible.

To report roadkill, download the Roadwatch South Africa app (only compatible with Android), or email roads@ewt.org.za

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