Keeping track of roadkill

The sight of a carcass of a mature deer on the roadside in the precincts of Killarney National Park, recently, brought home in a graphic way the fact that large numbers of animals, large and small, are being killed on our roads.

We don’t have exact figures for animal road kill in Ireland, but statistics from other, similar countries may give an idea as to its extent.

In an effort to determine the level of animal mortality on our roads, the National Parks and Wildlife Service is conducting a 2014 survey under which people can log details on dead animals they see on www.biology.ie.

In certain species, such as the otter, the loss of only a handful of individuals could have a significant impact on breeding in the local population. The survey is also trying to learn whether particular species are prone to this type of mortality and also whether road kills show seasonal or geographic patterns.

As our road network expanded in recent decades, so too, it appears, did the number of animals getting killed. This expansion, as well as the doubling of vehicles on our roads since 1990, has had a huge impact on many species.

New roads going through open landscape criss-cross paths that animals have been using for generations. As animals tend to follow the same paths, they become confused when changes are made to their habitat and so they often end up on heavily-trafficked roads where they are at the mercy of relentless traffic.

Road builders are supposed to put in underpasses and tunnels for animals, but this doesn’t always happen and the animal then have no safe way of getting to the other side.

Of the wildlife on roads at night, badgers, seem to be the most common. Most of their activity takes place after dark and it can be difficult for motorists to see them. Surveys have been carried out elsewhere to determine how many badgers die on the roads.

It is estimated that in Britain around 45,000 badgers die in this way each year. Badgerwatch Scotland statistics show the figure for their country to be around 2,000, but that could be well short of the real number. In The Netherlands, experts say about one-fifth of the badger population is killed on the roads.

Hopefully, the online survey will give a reasonably good indication of the level of animal carnage of our roads. Realistically, however, it’s hard to see how every animal death on every motorway, dual carriageway, national primary roads, minor roads and bohereens can be recorded.



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