SCIENCE SNIPPETS: THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROAD

Cameron Cormac, PhD Candidate, Centre for Functional Biodiversity, School of Life Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, downs@ukzn.ac.za 

For most drivers, it is fairly easy to spot an animal as large as an African Elephant, Cape Buffalo, or rhino on the road. However, despite these animals being highly visible because of their large size, there are still cases of drivers colliding with these large flagship species along roads near or in protected areas. Additionally, with fences being placed around the reserves that South Africa’s most iconic animals call home, aiming to protect both man and animals by keeping animals in and poachers out, the range that these large animals can roam is effectively reduced. But if large animals can be hit by cars and stopped by fences, what effect do roads and fences have on the smaller species that inhabit these protected spaces.

Globally anthropogenic land-use change, including the development of linear infrastructure, impacts species negatively. I am Cameron Cormac, a PhD student from the University of KwaZulu-Natal and working in conjunction with several supervisors, namely: Prof Colleen Downs, Dr Cormac Price (both University of KwaZulu-Natal), Dr Dave Druce, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, and Wendy Collinson of the Endangered Wildlife Trust. My project aims to answer questions about the effects of linear infrastructure (roads and fences) on vertebrate fauna in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park and the Zululand region of KwaZulu-Natal.

There are five questions that my project aims to answer. Firstly, to find out what vertebrate species are killed by vehicles along the sections of the R618 that separates the Hluhluwe and Imfolozi sections of Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park and the section of the R22 that runs through the northern section of Isamangaliso Wetland Park. Secondly, to determine what vertebrates are dying along fences within Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park and Phinda Private Game Reserve because the fence impedes them from entering either park. Additionally, to find out what animals are killed along the R22 that runs through multiple rural communities and compare it with the Isimangaliso section of the R22. I am particularly interested in how reptiles and amphibians in this region are affected by the roads and fences. Finally, to determine what measures can be taken to reduce the number of animals that die along the roads and fences that this project is concerned with.

To answer my project’s questions, I conduct surveys in the morning and evening, collecting information on what animals are killed on roads and fences. I also record the environmental conditions when I locate any dead animals, as weather conditions can increase roa

Cameron Cormac recording roadkill

dkills, and I note whether there are traffic calming or alternative structures for use animals to use to avoid the road. The number of cars that pass by during a set time frame, the number of cars that pass through the road sections in a day, and how far from the edge of the road the animal was are also recorded. This information will provide insights into what drives animals to use the road. Information from social media pages is also being used to obtain additional information about roadkills in the study area. Information on what animals are killed along fences is kindly collected by the rangers and park workers who patrol the reserves. All information is then used to determine what measures can be taken to reduce the mortalities along these man-made structures using computer analyses.

Vervet Monkey roadkill found during road surveys

At least 137 animal deaths have been recorded along the R618 and 103 deaths along the R22 over three months so far, including 77 amphibians, 14 reptiles, 21 birds, and 27 mammals in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park and 63 amphibians, 14 reptiles, 17 birds, and 12 mammals in Isamangaliso Wetland Park.

You can also assist in the study. Please send pictures of any animals seen dead or alive on these roads to the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi sightings Facebook group or by using the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s road watch application, which can be found in the Google play store, as this will add to our growing understanding of the threat posed by roads in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi and Isamangaliso Wetland parks. In conclusion, please drive carefully and slow down for all animals crossing the road, not just the large iconic species, and help preserve South Africa’s incredible diversity.

Vehicle sponsored for this research project by the Ford Wildlife Foundation

This work would not be possible without the generous loan of a vehicle by the Ford Wildlife Foundation.