As lockdown restrictions ease across Australia, regional drivers are being warned to look out for wildlife when returning to the roads. Not only have these animals had less vehicles on the road due to travel restrictions, but many have been displaced by the destruction of their habitat in recent bushfires. The prolonged drought this last few years has seen more animals were along on the roadside looking for grass.
Animal crashes account for around 5-6% of accidents and probably more, as this is under-reported. Roadkill wipes out more than 4 million mammals and 6 million birds, reptiles and other creatures a year. Roadkill poses more threat to marsupials than deadly disease.
Wildlife is unpredictable and can appear out of nowhere. So, it is important to be aware of roadkill danger hotspots. Knowing what precautions to take is essential to preserve Australia’s precious wildlife and reduce animal collisions.
In the event of a collision being empowered with knowledge of what to do next could help an injured animal survive and get the care.
1. Where are the Most Dangerous Roads in Australia?
Canberra has been named yet again as the number one hotspot for car-animal collisions according to a survey by AAMI – Australian Associated Motor Insurers Limited. Almost one in ten accidents in Canberra are caused by animal collisions.
The data also found NSW to be the worst state for animal collision, with one third of all reported incidents taking place on this state’s roads. Victoria is close behind and Queensland in third place. New animal strike locations have also appeared including Dubbo in NSW Roma in Queensland, Heathcote in Victoria and Kingston in Tasmania.
Below are the Animal collision hotspots in each state (the study did not include data from Northern Territory)NSW – Dubbo, Goulburn, Mudgee, Cooma, Inverell.
Victoria – Heathcote, Gisborne, Wallan, Sunbury Woodend
Queensland – Roma, Goondiwindi, Moranbah, Middlemount, St George
Western Australia – Baldivis, Nannup, Busselton, Karratha, Margaret River
South Australia – Port Augusta, Mount Gambier, Coober Pedy, Morgan, Whyalla
Tasmania – Kingston. Launceston, Cambridge, Hobart, George Town
Australian Northern Territory – Canberra, Kambah, Belconnen, Hume, Symonston
2. Which are the Most Hit Animals?
The animal most likely to be involved in a major collision with motorists are Kangaroos (84%), followed by Wallabies (5%), Wombat (2%), Deer (2%) and birds (1%). In total the annual death toll could reach 10 million animals once possums, bats, koalas, birds, snakes and reptiles are added to the tally according to rough estimates by the University of Sydney.
Friday is the worst day of the week for animal collisions, followed by the weekend. Australian wildlife tends to be at higher risk during winter months with a 15% increase in road related deaths between May to August. This is because as days shorten in the wintertime, motorists are sharing the road with animals for longer periods and accidents with animals will hit their peak.
Depending on where you are travelling besides the kangaroos and wallabies, cattle sheep, emus, cassowaries of camels can be prevalent roadkill. The mating season for deer is in the autumn, so you are most likely to see deer on the roads, causing an additional collision risk especially for motorcycles, cars and trucks.
Animal crashes result in 5-6% of all accidents. Yet nobody really knows the true number as not all roadkill is reported and many injured animals walk off and die in the bushes, hidden from view. It is also difficult to identify why animals are coming into care as they may have wandered away from the scene of the accident and even euthanised on the scene or orphaned and not be linked as a motor crash victim.
3. Which Species are being threatened by roadkill?
Millions of Australian marsupials are killed on Australian roads each year. The most susceptible are kangaroos, wallabies, wombats and koalas. Birds and reptiles are also run over in large numbers. Roadkill and trauma are affecting both large and small species such as frogs and small birds pushing animals into extinction.
The Southern Cassowary is Australia’s flightless bird found in far north of Queensland is down to its last few thousand survivors. Sadly, with the expansion of roads and vehicles, studies have found that vehicles are responsible for more than half their deaths.
In NSW, the local koala populations could now be wiped out with the recent devastating bushfires but added to this is the fatal mix of habit loss, dog attacks and vehicles.
Shockingly nearly a quarter of Tasmanian devils released back in to the wild from breeding programs or for facial cancer treatment become roadkill within weeks of their release. This is contributing towards Tasmanian devils becoming extinct.
4. When do motorists need to be most vigilant for animals on the road?
- Creeks and water sources – Animals will approach roads looking for water and food, even more so during drought conditions
- Dusk or dawn – This is when animals are most active. Increased activity particularly from nocturnal wildlife and the reduction in driver visibility puts animals crossing a road at risk.
- Fog – Thick fog can reduce a driver’s visibility
- Winter – Increases activity as food is scarce and nights are longer
- Corners – Difficult to see round corners
- Roadkill on side of road– slow down as it is an indicator of wildlife in the area
Drivers of quiet vehicles are more at risk. The more silent hybrid car gives animals less warning that something is approaching. If you are driving at night. Some animals like deer just see a point of light getting brighter and do not necessarily associate this with danger of a silent car.
5. How do you reduce the risk of animal collisions?
- Lights – Ensure your lights and high beams work well so that animals may perceive that something is coming, and you have clear vision of the road ahead. Once you spot an animal such as a deer, immediately switch your lights to low beam and slow down. High beam lights will blind the animals and means they cannot see an escape route and are more likely to freeze. Some animals like deer just see a point of light getting brighter and do not necessarily associate this with danger of a silent car
- Slow down -Taking things slower. This will give you more time to react and will shorten your stopping distances.
- Warning Lights – If you can stop before hitting an animal put your warning lights on and turn your lights onto daytime/side beam lights so that the animal can see where to escape to.
- Horn – Test your horn to make sure it is loud and sharp – if you have time use your horn to frighten the animal out of the way.
- Brake – Brake in a straight line if possible as this will give you the maximum braking force. Once you start turning and breaking you lengthen the stopping distance as your tyres must undergo additional forces through trying to change direction.
- Swerving – You may have to decide at the last minute whether to swerve and there is a chance you will swerve the same way as the animal runs. It is easier for Motorcycles to manoeuvre around animals because they are smaller. If there is a choice to avoid swerving do so, so as not to endanger yourself and other drivers on the road.
- Peripheral Vision – Use your peripheral vision and be aware of your surroundings especially when travelling through forest or grassland areas. Kangaroos are wallabies are notorious for sitting in the grass on the side of the road then jumping in front of your vehicle.
- Kangaroos move in groups – If you spot a kangaroo crossing the road it is a sign that more kangaroos will be following as they move in groups. Be mindful that young animals may not yet recognise your car as a threat and may need a little extra time to reach safety.
6. Does a Bull bar improve the Safety?
Bull bars are sturdy structures attached to the front of vehicles to decrease vehicle damage and protect driver and passengers against more serious consequences of a collision especially with animals. A Bull bar protects the front of the car so if you do collide with an animal there is less major damage and they give you a fair chance of driving on and not be stranded.
You can fit bull bars to your vehicle after it has been purchased, if you live in an area where you are frequently exposed to large animals. Residents of rural areas are in favour of fitting more substantial bull bars as many smaller ‘nudge bars’ fitted as factory options would not protect against hitting a large animal at speed.
An accessory or bull bar fitted to a vehicle must therefore be attached in a manner that does not affect the continuing compliance of the vehicle with the Australian Design Rules and Regulations. People living in regional NSW are more likely to add bull bars to protect their vehicles against wondering stock and other animals. Some vehicles are fitted with badly designed bull bars with sharp edges and pointed corners. Some are fitted with accessories which stick out beyond the bumper or bull bar.
7. Do Sonic Whistles Stop Animal Collisions?
When Sonic Whistles are fitted on a bull bar, the air flows through and is at a pitch high enough so that humans cannot hear the sound, but some animals do. Tests have shown that they give animals a warning that something is making a noise, and this alerts them. That way the animal on the roadside will not be suddenly startled and it improves the chance that it will not jump out in front of you in the panic.
Some studies have shown that kangaroos do not always react to high frequency sounds, but other animals do, the sound may also annoy the dog if you have your pet in the car! Electric deer whistles are also available.
8. What do you do if you Hit an Animals or See Roadkill?
If you are involved in an animal collision,
- Stop to check -whether the animal is injured. In the case of hitting an adult kangaroo, even if injured, never approach it for your own safety. If it has passed away check its pouch as young animals may not survive long. Keep any distressed animal warm, ideally wrapped in a blanket, jumper or cardboard box until you can call for help but also be aware that any injured animal may be dangerous .
- Call for Help – You can call WIRES- Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service, if you are in NSW, or your local wildlife rescue service or a local vet to find out what to do.
- Move Carcass -The body of a large animal lying on the road is a danger for motorcyclists and car drivers. This also prevents secondary collision as birds of prey and carnivorous mammals are at risk if they feed on a body which has been left out on the road It is your responsibility to move a dead animal off the road if possible and if not, notify the police. Large mammals can be heavy so dragging the body by the base of the tail or hind legs is best. If you must leave a dead adult kangaroo tie a ribbon on it or paint an X on the body as a sign that it has already been checked for a joey.
Go to the website below for instructions on how to safely remove a joey from the pouch.
If your headlights have been damaged by the collision it perhaps means you cannot carry on with your journey and will need to get a tow truck, contact a friend or relative or find another way to reach your destination.
9. Virtual fencing – Fence of Sound
It is known that animals that cannot get over a fence often go to the end of the fence in order to cross the road. Virtual fencing aims to fill these gaps and decrease roadkill as well as help protect endangered animals.
The virtual fencing is based on European technology which include a device attached to a pole by the side of the road. These alarm units are around 80 feet apart and approximately the size of a mobile phone. The device is activated by vehicle headlights and sets off blue and yellow flashing light and emits a high-pitched buzzing siren. This warns nearby wildlife of approaching vehicles and give the animal time to move away from the road. The goal is to give animals time to move away without panicking, since panicked animals often run into the path of a vehicle.
These warnings do not distract drivers because the sound and light are directed to the edge of the road. They are also only loud and bright enough to be noticeable to wildlife in the immediate vicinity. These series of alarms have halved roadkill deaths on Australian roads in Tasmania and are being trialled on Queensland roads on the Sunshine Coast.
Physical fencing costs 10 times more than virtual fencing which are they are easy to install and can cover large stretches of road. More research needs to be done to establish the exact species the technology could protect. But they have found that they act as a warning to kangaroos, possums and wombats by the decrease in numbers of these species by the roadside.
Animals have no natural survival behaviour to protect themselves. Vehicles give little warning, travel at a speed unknown in any other predator and kill at random. There is no national data on Australian roadkill, but a conservative estimate of roadkill is 4 million mammals per year.
The lack of exact data has encouraged a Roadkill Reporter app to be developed by Bruce Englefield, a researcher in the School of Veterinary Science at the University of Sydney. It is designed to take a photograph of roadkill anywhere in Australia with a GPS-time-and-date stamp. Users can then upload the photo to a website. The photographs will help paint the bigger picture and confirm species. This will help to give a reliable estimate of yearly Australian roadkill to be calculate and roadkill hotspots to be identified. It would also possibly target the area to maximise the effect of the financial investment available.
The app is free and available for iPhone and Android phones. Australians are being urged to take a photo of any dead animal they see on the road or by the side of the road so that a map of Australia dotted with decreased animals and the deadliest stretches of road can be mapped. The data will hopefully reveal which of Australia’s many efforts to reduce roadkill are working most effectively.
Citizens are warned to only take a photograph if it is safe to do so. They must slow down and stop and never compromise their own safely or the safety of other people travelling with you in order to report roadkill.