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A GLOBAL NETWORK OF ROADS RESEARCHERS – WHERE TO FROM HERE?

Wendy Collinson, Programme Manager, EWT Wildlife in Transport Programme, wendyc@ewt.org.za

Roads fragment wildlife habitats, leading to wildlife population declines, and wildlife is frequently struck by vehicles on roads, often resulting in severe injury or death for the animal and the human occupants of the vehicle. Recording such incidents is the first step towards understanding the causes and other factors involved so that actions can be taken to prevent or reduce them.

October was National Transport Month in South Africa, a month-long campaign used by the South African Department of Transport to engage directly with its stakeholders around transport issues. The EWT also champions Transport Month to encourage the public to join its citizen science data collection project and to raise awareness about the causes and consequences of wildlife-vehicle collisions on our roads. These data are collected so that the EWT and partners can identify hotspots where roadkill is a common occurrence, and determine what factors contribute to the occurrence of road collisions. These data also allow us to provide recommendations based on scientific findings regarding the development of new roads, or modifications of existing roads, to prevent the impacts the roads, and vehicles that use them, have on our wildlife.

The Endangered Wildlife Trust has been gathering wildlife-roadkill-data on regional and national roads across South Africa since 2010. We have done this through national campaigns via social media, roadkill awareness days, promotional materials, and the development of a smartphone app called “RoadWatch”, through which citizen scientists can submit their roadkill sightings. The EWT has also partnered with South African road agencies to train road patrollers to gather roadkill data, a method commonly employed in other countries to identify roadkill hotspots on highways, where roadkill-reduction-measures can be implemented. To date, approximately 200 route patrollers have been trained, expanding the roadkill database from 2,000 entries in 2010, to almost 25,000 at present.

Through an exciting collaboration between researchers from South Africa, Austria, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, the United Kingdom, and the United States, the EWT’s Wildlife and Transport Programme published a study in leading international journal Biological Conservation on the efficacy of different roadkill data collection methods. The researchers undertook a global survey to assess the various methods used by different countries to collect roadkill data that help to inform transportation and conservation decisions and to initiate the development of best-practice guidelines for the collection and use of the data. While we promote our campaigns for sightings throughout the year (although a little more during Transport Month), UK researchers, use an intensive annual campaign called ‘Project Splatter’ to encourage members of the public to submit roadkill data only during one period in the year, and the Czech Republic uses primarily crash statistic data provided from law enforcement, not from the public. “Even though there may be variations in the methods of how we gather our data’, said co-author Sarah Perkins, a researcher from Cardiff University in the UK, “the outcomes are the same. We seek to provide current best-practice for collecting and using roadkill data to inform transportation and conservation decisions.”

The different methods were found to have similar outcomes, but the research team suggested that one of the most important decisions regarding data analysis is to identify the intended audience and how the data are to be used, and therefore, how the analysis and graphical outputs are portrayed. It is also critical to provide feedback on data submitted, not only through obligatory reports to the road agencies but to keep members of the public engaged and motivated to continue reporting.

“Our publication highlights the range of people, technologies, and species involved in collecting data about roadkill, all of which should lead to actions to reduce roadkill worldwide.”
Fraser Shilling of the Road Ecology Center at UC Davis in the United States

Roadkill data collection currently provide one of the largest, continuous sources of observations of diverse wildlife in the world. These data are useful information for preventing the WVC event itself and conserving wildlife. Consequently, developing any app. to record roadkill data (or any form of conservation data) must make an instant impression, due to the vast choice of wildlife apps available. Through international collaborations such as this latest paper, the EWT aims to establish a global network of roadkill reporting systems, identify best practices and practical applications for improved conservation research, and develop guidelines for better management of road networks globally.

Please contact the EWT for more information or to get involved. Roadkill data can be emailed to roads@ewt.org.za or OR you can download the smartphone app (EWT Road Watch) and start reporting:

• Go to Google Play on your smartphone https://play.google.com/store
• Type in ‘EWT Road Watch’
• Click on ‘INSTALL’, and it will download to your phone
• Once installed, you will need to enter your user details, either your email address or phone number. You will only need to do this once, and we will never share your information
• You can then begin reporting roadkill sightings
• It doesn’t matter if your phone does not have signal, the app will log your location and submit records once you are back in network range.

Your support will no doubt help us to protect our wildlife, but please don’t put your own life at risk to collect information. Always consider your safety, and please do not use your phone while driving

When reporting roadkill, please provide the following information:
• Location of roadkill (GPS coordinates)
• Identification of species (as best as possible)
• Date and time seen
• Notes on the local habitat type (e.g. riverine, grassland, rocky, wetland, etc.) are also be useful.

Good identification photos (particularly if the carcass is very squashed) are very helpful BUT only stop and take a photo if it is safe to do so, then try and record the following:
• BIRDS: Tail and wing feathers/beak and feet (if the whole bird is no longer there) and eye
• REPTILES: Scales/head shape/foot shape (if applicable)
• AMPHIBIANS: Foot shape (webbed)/presence of warts/colouration around head and eye
• MAMMALS: Fur/hair colour/body size/teeth type (carnivore or herbivore)

Visit the EWT website for more information: www.ewt.org.za

The core supporters of the EWT’s Wildlife and Transport Programme are Bakwena Platinum Corridor Concessionaire, De Beers Group of Companies, Ford Wildlife Foundation, N3 Toll Concession, GreenMatter, and TRAC N4.

The EWT would like to acknowledge all the co-authors of the paper:
Fraser Shilling (Road Ecology Center, Department of Environmental Science and Policy, University of California, Davis, United States)
Michal Bil (Department of Geography, Faculty of Science, Palacký University, Czech Republic)
Diemer Vercayie (Natuurpunt, Mechelen, Antwerp, Flanders, Belgium)
Florian Heigl (Institute of Zoology, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna, Austria)
Sarah E. Perkins (School of Biosciences, Cardiff University, United Kingdom)
Sandra MacDougall (School of Arts and Science, Red Deer College, Alberta, Canada)