Driven to Their Graves by Roads

Sahabat Alam  Malaysia (SAM) is appalled at the  frequent occurrences of road kills affecting our endangered species. It has been reported  that since 2011 wild animals such as  civets, wild boars, marbled cats, tapirs and others etc  have been killed in road accidents.

Among wildlife,  mammals  make up the highest number of animals killed in these accidents, accounting  for 1,110 deaths.

According to the Minister of Natural Resources and Environment (July 14, 2016 – Bernama) these protected species were killed on federal, state and municipal roads involving 61 roads and highway networks in the whole country.

Not surprisingly, most  accidents have taken place in or near forested areas where wild animals tried to cross a road to get from one forest area  to another.

Despite SAM and other wildlife NGOs heightening the harmful effects of roads to wildlife, road density continues to increase with roads criss-crossing the country. Federal and state governments and local transportation departments devote huge budgets to construction and upgrading of roads.

Multinational lending institutions, such as the World Bank, finance roads that dissect the  pristine rainforest, and usher in a flood of settlers who destroy both the rainforest and the indigenous cultures. Public land-managing agencies build thousands of miles of roads each year to support their resource extraction activities.  Most public agencies disregard the ecological impacts of roads, and attempt to justify logging  roads as benefiting the public  and wildlife management.

Although the effects of different types of roads vary, virtually all are bad, and the net effect of all roads is nothing short of catastrophic.

Roadkill does  have a significant impact on wildlife population. The greatest threat posed to wildlife are vehicles on high speed highways.  Unimproved, unpaved roads are less dangerous.  Increases in traffic volume  results in more collisions on any given road, and in our profligate society more people means more cars on virtually every road.

While roadkill statistics take into account the  number of animals killed,  does it  account for animals that crawl off the road to die after being hit?  What about the number of  reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates and  birds? Snakes are particularly vulnerable to roadkill, as the warm asphalt attracts them.  What about  the thousands of  insects smashed on windshields?

Despite signboards on animal crossings, transverse bars,  solar amber lights,  animal viaducts, tunnels and pathways at locations  with the highest number of roadkills, wildlife continues to perish.  The questions are:  How effective are the animal crossings in ensuring a lessening of roadkills; and Have any studies been conducted to find  the percentage of  wildlife using the constructed animal crossings?

In fact, roadkills should not  occur at all with  proper planning among the  various agencies before construction of roads and highways  through wildlife habitats.

Roads are  major threats to the survival of wildlife.  They  act  as a displacement factor that affects  animal distribution and movement patterns.  Animal population fragmenting occurs when access corridors that encourage development and logging, traverse through the national forests Poaching of rare plants and animals then occurs threatening the very existence of the forests’  rare flora and  fauna.

Humans incessantly demand  new roads for  connectivity,  forcing wild animals closer to roads and human settlements, so that even new wildlife crossings can do little to save animal lives.

The Ministry of Works (MOW) and the Malaysian Highway Authorities (MHA) must not turn a blind eye to the negative impacts of new roads and highways on the environment.  Reckless planning and construction of new roads could have a huge impact on the surrounding environment and the ecosystem.

Road kills can be avoided  if these government  bodies show  a high level of concern about the importance of wildlife and their conservation and protection. When potential risks to the environment are identified and assessed,   and management options thoroughly considered, road managers, planners and scientists can work together to determine where it is best to site new roads and minimise any ecological damage.

Letter to Editor, 12 October 2017