The staff of the Nature and Parks Authority, who are used to seeing injured or dying wild animals as part of their routine work, found it difficult last week to look at a photograph of a female Israeli tortoise lying dead and bleeding on a road after being hit by a car.
Dr. Yehoshua Shakdi, one of the Authority's researchers, who showed the picture at a scientific conference held by the authority, told the participants that he also had a photograph of the tortoise's dead embryo, but it was so shocking that he decided to spare them the sight.
Shakdi presented findings about the scale of wild animals being run over on the country's roads and highways. The study was financed by the Public Works Department and by the Ford Foundation for the quality of the environment. In addition to Shakdi, Eli Sadot and Yiftah Sinai, both from the Nature and Parks Authority, and Roi Guttman, from the Department of Zoology at Tel Aviv University, took part in the research project.
The study was conducted for one year (2001-2002) and examined the number of cases of animals being run over and their habits in crossing roads. The area chosen for the study consisted of a number of sections of roads around Mount Carmel. It turns out that dozens of wild creatures from a wide variety of species are struck by vehicles on these roads every year.
Jackals and foxes, which are common in Israel, were struck by vehicles frequently, but rare species, such as badgers and wild cats, were also killed in this way. Birds were found run over on the road, along with a few reptiles and large numbers of house cats. Examinations of other areas have turned up boars, deer and wild cats, which were run over again and again by passing cars.
As the researchers note, it is very difficult to come up with an estimate of the actual number of animals struck down by vehicles. It is obvious to them that some of the corpses were dragged off and eaten by other animals or crushed and flung to the side by cars. In addition, it is the obligation of the Public Works Department to clear away the corpses of dead animals that interfere with the flow of traffic, and its staff does so systematically.
A major conclusion arising from the study is that on wide highways with a divider down the center, more corpses of animals were found in the middle of the road than along the shoulders. The indication, then, is that the dividing fence makes it difficult for animals to proceed, and they are hit when they try to go back.
If we apply the results of this first study of its kind to other sections of highway that pass through open areas in Israel, it becomes clear that many thousands of wild animals are killed every year, including some that are rare.
Solutions are available that can reduce significantly this melancholy state of affairs. The participants in the study note that fences that are put up at particularly dangerous sections of roads can be used to channel the animals to passages that exist under the road (such as water ditches). In addition, a broad range of special passages for animals can be used, such as are currently in use in many countries in Europe and in North America. This does not involve changing the route of a road or establishing expensive structures; rather, it requires preplanning and a relatively small financial investment that can save the lives of many animals. One example is overpasses that can be traversed by deer, which flinch from using underpasses and find themselves trapped between roads or struck by vehicles when attempting to cross.
Three years ago a panel set up by the Zoological Society of Israel to examine routes of passage for animals to get across roads, published a background paper stating: "The committee was disappointed to find that in contrast to the seriousness with which the subject is treated abroad, and in contrast to the accumulation of scientific and practical material in the Western world, the roads in Israel, whether large or small, are far from being adapted to animal crossings in a way that will avert their being hit by vehicles."
According to the Nature and Parks Authority, the Public Works Department is today aware of the gravity of the problem and is ready to promote solutions, as seen in its recent funding for the project. However, the practical manifestation of this approach will be the construction of a significant number of passageways for animals and a reexamination of road dividers. This will perhaps lead to the use of different methods of dividing roads, which will not endanger drivers but will make it possible for at least some types of animals to get to the other side safely.
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