Death on the roads: Ways to minimise animal deaths due to speeding vehicles, trains

Anirudh Chaoji suggests ways to minimise animal deaths due to speeding vehicles and trains

Every morning we wake up to small news snippets of another animal knocked down by a speeding vehicle or a train. Today, more than ever before, better infrastructure like express-highways, wider roads and faster vehicles are knocking the lives out of a surprisingly large number of animals. Trains too are causing huge damage, accounting for the deaths of many wild animals including large mammals like tigers, leopards and even elephants. The recent tragic loss of three tiger cubs near Chandrapur, once again has revived the need for immediate ‘mitigation methods’.

This is specially pertinent in areas of regular large mammal activity. And we have not even looked at the scores of amphibians and reptiles that die an unsung death. There is no denying the fact that the Central Indian landscape is completely a wildlife habitat and large number of animals cross human made roads, canals and tracks at different locations. One of the worst killer stretches is the Mul-Chandrapur highway, where it is humanly impossible to predict the exact location of the next animal crossing. As a result, many animals are sacrificed to ‘development’.

It is often asked – what brings these animals onto the highways or railway tracks? Actually, most of our highways and tracks pass through some of our pristine wildlife habitats – the homes of these animals! And at the time of writing, many new proposals for highways and railway lines passing through National Parks, Tiger reserves, Wildlife Sanctuaries and Reserve Forests are pending. This exhaustive list includes the proposed gauge conversion of the old meter gauge Wan railway line passing through the heart of the Melghat Tiger Reserve. The new broad gauge is aimed at establishing a connect with the national railways network and thereby increasing the freight and passenger volumes. However, it will also mean that an increased number of the fast moving trains will race through pristine Melghat forest – at times playing the role of a predator – but one that doesn’t eat its kill.

However, all is not lost. When the Critical Tiger Habitat of Pench-Kanha tiger corridor was about to be bisected by the widened National Highway-NH7, a unique mitigation tool was devised by Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA). Based on their recommendations, National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) elevated the highway at three major animal crossings to ensure that the wild animals could continue to use their natural paths far below the highway.

This effort came at an estimated additional expense of Rs.186 crore. These high costs involved have meant that we come across only a few such strong mitigation methods. We often end up, only in putting up economical mitigation tools like wildlife warning signs, speed breakers to reduce traffic speed and on a few occasions temporary road closure.

In a few examples, outside of India, animal detection systems and measures that scare animals away from the road or alert them to approaching traffic have been used. In a few innovative cases efforts were made to increase the attractiveness of areas away from the road. But often physical barrier along the road such as fencings have been found to be more effective. However, to reduce the probability of such ‘road-kill’ accidents, it can safely be suggested that wildlife crossing structures (over-and under-passes) should always be combined with wildlife fencing.

Explorer, wildlifer, trekker, scuba diver, sky diver, river rafter, birdwatcher and nomad for life, Anirudh Chaoji works as an ecologist in community-based conservation, Forest Department, Melghat Tiger Reserve.

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