Wildlife and Roads Project
SAVING THE ENDANGERED WESTERN LEOPARD TOAD
Amphibians are one of the most impacted vertebrate groups at risk from roads during breeding migrations and feeding events, in particular wildlife-vehicle-collisions (WVCs). The last 20 years have seen a dramatic increase in efforts by volunteers and scientists to mitigate the negative effects of roads and traffic on wildlife globally, including fencing to prevent WVCs and wildlife crossing structures to facilitate landscape connectivity and reduce road mortality. WVCs have been identified as one of the main threats facing the endangered Western Leopard Toad (Amietophrynus pantherinus), found endemically in coastal suburbs in Cape Town, South Africa. Due to the desirability of coastal land for residential homes, WVCs have steadily increased from 2008 to present.....READ MORE
The Endangered Wildlife Trust has strived to raise public awareness of the impacts of roads on biodiversity through media campaigns, extensive social media platforms and by engaging with relevant stakeholders. Initially our attention was focused on road impacts on wildlife outside of protected areas, since traffic volume is higher and collisions are often more visible and more threatening to human life. However, reports from various social media platforms have indicated huge public concern for wildlife-vehicle collisions (WVC) inside protected areas. Consequently, in 2014 we initiated an assessment of WVC rates within selected protected areas in South Africa, with an emphasis on using park visitors to provide citizen science data. However, expert data collection remains the most reliable source of information about impacts. For example, 97% of the 143 WVC events we recorded in Pilanesberg National Park in 2014 were obtained from systematic surveys by our project team. This illustrates the critical need to raise public awareness about wildlife on all of our roads.
Of almost 700 questionnaire surveys conducted with visitors to protected areas, more than 95% of respondents to the questionnaire survey believed that speed was the main cause of WVCs. However, traffic monitoring devices deployed within the parks showed that 72% of park visitors (n=6,981) complied with park speed limits driving at or below the speed limit. We postulated that WVCs were likely to occur because drivers were either unaware of their surroundings or travelling too fast to avoid collisions. To investigate these factors, we placed two fake animals (a snake and an amphibian) on a 40 m section of road in two National Parks. We used traffic monitoring devices to record the speed at which the vehicles were being driven, and observational techniques to assess the position of the driver’s head (looking straight ahead at the road or to the bush at the side) as well as the driver response to the fake animal (a ‘hit’ or a ‘miss’). Of 201 vehicles, 67.7% of the drivers were not looking at the road, but rather scanning the bush for wildlife, and 49.6% of vehicles hit the fake animals. This suggests that WVCs in national parks happen primarily because of the expectation that animals are to be found in the habitat alongside the road, rather than on the road itself and that improving driver observation of the road, rather than the speed of the vehicle, is the key factor in preventing a WVC.
The EWT-WRP has embarked on a five-year project to assess the impact of roads on wildlife in five protected areas of South Africa. Currently we are conducting surveys in Pilanesberg National Park . We are also collaborating with the University of KZN where a Master’s student is underatking work in Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park.
LOW-LEVEL FENCES REDUCE ROADKILL AT HOTSPOTS: A SOUTH AFRICAN EXAMPLE
A wide variety of mitigation measures are deployed to reduce wildlife mortality on roads, but few of these have been tested in South Africa, where road ecology is still an emerging field. During baseline roadkill surveys conducted in 2009 in the Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area (GMTFCA), a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Limpopo province South Africa, we identified the presence of a roadkill hotspot. Such hotspots are characterized by higher than average concentrations of roadkill and therefore provide an opportunity to initiate targeted mitigation measures with relatively high potential impact. In early 2015, we investigated the efficacy of roadside barriers in reducing mortality frequency of small terrestrial vertebrates in the hotspot. We erected low-level fencing by the roadside to direct wildlife towards existing culverts beneath the road, and compared mortality frequency before and after the intervention.
We observed a sharp decrease in the concentration of roadkill events where the barriers were erected (from 0.23 roadkills/day/km to 0.04 roadkills/day/km), as compared to control sites, although this decline was not quite significant (Friedman’s test, χ2 = 0.1, p = 0.09), probably due to the small sample size. Our results suggest that low-level fencing can reduce the incidence of roadkill for small terrestrial vertebrates, although its potential negative effects, for example on population connectivity, still need to be investigated.
SAMANGO MONKEY ROAD KILL MITIGATION IN THE SOUTPANSBERG, SOUTH AFRICA
The samango monkey (Cercopithecus albogularis) is South Africa's only exclusively forest dwelling primate representing the southernmost extent of the range of arboreal guenons in Africa. In South Africa the species distribution is closely correlated with distribution of Afromontane, Coastal and Scarp forests. Forests are South Africa’s smallest, most fragmented and most vulnerable biome and samango monkeys play an important role dispersing seeds of many forest plants. In the Red Data Book of the Mammals of South Africa, the samango is listed as Vulnerable and is considered rare. The samango population in the study area represents the northernmost population of the species in the country and is considered to be completely isolated from samango populations further south....READ MORE
SEEKING ROADKILL DATA THROUGH PUBLIC AWARENESS, PARTNERSHIPS AND CITIZEN SCIENCE
Roads are integral to the continued development and prosperity of South Africa’s economy. However, roads also have the potential to destroy and degrade habitat, as well as fragment wildlife populations. Traffic, particularly when reckless driving is involved, can have a direct negative impact on wildlife, with many species at risk from wildlife-vehicle-collisions (WVCs), often resulting in an animal’s death, or ‘roadkill’. A relatively large body of international literature is available on mitigation measures to reduce conflict between road infrastructure and wildlife. However, few of these techniques have been tested for applicability to the species and situations found in South Africa, despite the country’s legislative framework that necessitates environmental impact assessments for development. This is in part due to a lack of understanding of the impacts of road development on wildlife.
The Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) has improved our understanding of the impacts of road infrastructure on wildlife in South Africa over the last six years. Through our work, we have been gathering WVC data from across the country by driving set routes and encouraging members of the public to submit data. In January 2014 we launched a national public awareness campaign to report WVC sightings. The campaign reached over 1,100 members (nationally and internationally) on the Road Ecology LinkedIn group, almost 800 members on the Road Ecology Facebook page and almost 250 followers on the EWTRoads Twitter account. In addition to this, a cellphone app called ‘Road Watch’ was launched to enable members of the public to assist with data collection. As a result of these WVC reporting platforms, almost 10,000 roadkill data points have been collected with the assistance of over 150 volunteers from across the country. From these data, we can identify problem species and sites, and develop and implement targeted measures to reduce wildlife-road-mortality.
Apart from public engagement, we are also establishing partnerships with relevant stakeholders, such as the N3 Toll Concession and Bakwena N1/N4 Toll road agencies, to provide measures to reduce the impacts of roads on wildlife as well as expand on current public awareness roadkill campaigns. Through these partnerships, we provide training workshops for data collection and species identification, and capacitate road patrol teams, as well as members of the public, to record and submit roadkill sightings from across the country.
USING CITIZEN SCIENCE TO SURVEY ROADKILL IN SOUTH AFRICA
Roads affect wildlife through a range of mechanisms from habitat loss and degradation through decrease in landscape connectivity to direct mortality from collisions with vehicles (roadkill). Accidents involving large animals can also have human safety implications. Wildlife mortality due to roadkill often exceeds natural rates and can cause population declines. Repeated road surveys conducted by trained personnel are the ideal way of monitoring impacts of roadkill on wildlife populations but are impractical to conduct over large areas. However, the development of public participation to data collection (sometimes called “citizen science”) has facilitated monitoring at broad spatial and temporal scales, far beyond the limit of traditional field studies.
We used social media and provided a simple smartphone app to mobilize citizen scientists to collect data on mammalian roadkill across South Africa (~1.2 million km). From 1999 to 2015, a total of 2680 roadkill were reported by citizen scientists and stored in the Endangered Wildlife Trust roadkill database. We identified two main types of reporters: those that did regular road patrols (each person reporting >50 roadkill) and those that submitted opportunistic data. We first used the data collected by regular reporters (2125 reports) to provide a description of mammalian roadkill and their spatio-temporal patterns. We then compared the results with those obtained from data submitted by opportunistic reporters.
Little difference was detected between roadkill reported by opportunistic compared to regular reporters. Data from regular reporters showed that carnivores (44%), very small species (≤10kg, 25%) and nocturnal species (43%) were reported killed more often than any other taxa, body size or diurnal species respectively. The five species most reported killed by regular reporters were Scrub Hares (10%), rabbit sp. (9%), Bat-eared Foxes (8%), Black-backed Jackals (7%) and Aardwolves (5%). Unidentified mammals represented 8% of the dataset. Patterns from opportunistic reporters were similar although Southern Striped Polecat (5%) was also among the five most often reported species while Aardwolf ranked sixth. When road type and surface were provided, mammalian roadkill were most often reported on national roads (32%) and paved roads in general (96%) compared to smaller and unpaved roads respectively. Data from regular reporters allowed the identification of three major hotspots of roadkill representing potential high-risk areas for wildlife to cross the roads. The same roadkill hotspots were identified using data provided by opportunistic reporters.
This study is the first to provide a nationwide survey of mammalian roadkill in South Africa. Some groups of mammals are reported more as roadkill than others e.g. carnivore and nocturnal species. However, more reports do not necessarily imply more roadkill since there is potential bias in the reporting, which must be considered in further studies. Our analysis demonstrates that citizen science surveys can be used to provide solid roadkill data, in determining trends across very large areas difficult for scientists to monitor. These trends can determine potential roadkill hotspots and species at risk, which in turn can become the focus of more detailed monitoring, ultimately leading to the implementation of roadkill-reduction-measures.
This is a collaborative project between the University of the Free State and the Endangered Wildlife Trust.
USING ROADSIDE VERGES TO MONITOR BIODIVERSITY IN THE VHEMBE BIOSPHERE RESERVE
Through a joint collaboration between the EWT, the University of Venda, the Vhembe Biosphere Reserve and Green Matter, Sipho Mbambala will be using his flora background to determine the impacts caused by roads on biodiversity in the Vhembe Biosphere Reserve (VBR), Limpopo Province.
Sipho originates from Nzhelele in Dzanani, Limpopo Province, although he was schooled in the Eastern Cape. He enrolled at the University of Venda in 2007 where he completed his BSc and BSc Honours with a dissertation that focussed on the perceptions of traditional healers on the management of sexually transmitted diseases in Mutale Local Municipality. Following his BSc, Sipho then went on to examine the utilization of invasive alien medicinal plants in the treatment of HIV/Aids related symptoms by traditional healers for his MSc. This incredible academic background allows Sipho to extend his research to the road ecology discipline and will focus on invasive alien plants on roadsides in the VBR, and how they impact biodiversity.
This project is supported by the GreenMatter/Lewis Foundation and the Mapula trust jointly. For more information, contact Sipho Mbambala on: firstname.lastname@example.org