Wildlife Road kills have the potential of wiping out entire species of animals, say naturalists

Afew decades ago, if a shield-tailed snake wanted to cross over to the other side of the forest during the rains, he would simply slither across when he knew it was time, and he would be safe. But today, there is a good chance that he will be run over. Speeding vehicles along the Aliyar – Attakatti (near Coimbatore) check post road claimed the lives of several shield-tailed snakes last year, according to a study by biologist R. Arumugam.

Not just snakes — frogs, toads, chameleons, butterflies and birds have been crushed to death by speeding cars and trucks. Forest roads should be negotiated carefully. “If the roads are wide and in good condition, vehicles speed across them. In places where a speed of 40km/hr is prudent, some go at 70-80km/hr,” says Arumugam.

For four months, he, along with volunteer N. Lakshminarayanan, covered two roads that passed through the Anamalai Tiger Reserve. They were the stretches between the 9 / 6 check post and Chinnar check post, and between Aliyar and the Attakatti check post. It was a project initiated by the Tamil Nadu Forest Department to study road kills.

Arumugam says that they saw a number of dead reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates. “Speeding vehicles run over them because the drivers do not see the movement of small animals,” he says. “Besides, snakes are generally slow moving. By the time they move from one side of the road to the other, they are run over.”

Arumugam's study found that 96 per cent of animal road kills happened during the night. They counted a total of 91 dead animals — 17 species were found dead along the Aliyar – Attakatti road alone. He also found that over 85 per cent of vehicles that plied the road travelled at speeds over 40km/hr. It is not just the reptiles, several big animals have also been killed on roads adjoining forests. Arumugam recalls the death of a Nilgiri Tahr a few years back. “It was killed by a vehicle on the Valparai road,” he says.

P. Jeganathan, a scientist with the Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF), says that even arboreal animals such as the Nilgiri Langur, Bonnet Monkey, Malabar Giant Squirrel and Lion-Tailed Macaque (LTM) are vulnerable to road kills. “This is because the canopy contiguity of their forests is disturbed by the roads.”

A team of scientists from NCF has constructed bridges made of thick tarpaulin between trees to be used by the animals in Pudhuthottam estate of Valparai, he adds.

In 2010, NCF constituted a study in two rainforest fragments of the Valparai plateau. “We found that every day, two animals are killed every kilometre,” says Jeganathan.

Jeganathan worries that road kills have the potential to wipe out entire species endemic to an area.

“But we cannot blame the public entirely,” he says. “We have to educate them.” For, even a seemingly harmless act of throwing candy on the road could cost an animal its life.

One night, a porcupine crossed the road to check out a white object — an idli. The animal was so engrossed in eating it that he didn't notice a vehicle speeding towards him — he was killed instantly. This is why one shouldn't litter roads along forests, says Jeganathan. “Also, people should be taught not to feed animals.”

According to A. Thyagaraj, District Forest Officer and Deputy Director, Anamalai Tiger Reserve, the forest department has deployed anti-poaching watchers in Pudhuthottam to ensure the safe crossing of LTMs.

“They also advise the public not to feed animals,” he says. In a bid to create awareness amidst drivers, NCF has trained school kids in the area to stand by roads with placards saying ‘Go slow. Lion-Tailed Monkey crossing.'

A little concern for animals will go a long way in their conservation. Says Jeganathan, “It is just an animal,” some people think. “But aren't they living beings too?”