The Little-Known Epidemic of Roadkill

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Mattie McConnell

A deceased deer lays in the median off Highway 25 (Photo Courtesy of Mattie McConnell)

As squirrels, deer, turtles, beavers, and even armadillos litter the roads, it is something that most driving citizens see daily, but what is it telling us about our ecosystems, and what can we do to prevent it? 

“I probably see roadkill about five times a week,” said Abbi Manos, student driver and junior at Brashier.

The Federal Highway Administration estimates that 300,000 wildlife-vehicle collisions, known as WVCs, occur each year, but many researchers believe that these collisions are considerably under-reported. Other researchers have placed this number in the hundred millions worldwide. 

Although roadkill incidents have been occurring for centuries, these collisions have spiked since the rise of automobiles during the first few decades of the 20th century. 

Frequent roadkill incidents pose serious threats to regional animal populations, especially in areas experiencing rapid developmental growth. Recurrent collisions mixed with continuous urban expansion may endanger local species, even causing some to become endangered. This is because urbanization results in habitat loss, and animals are crowded into areas where they are more likely to be victims of roadkill. 

“[Large animal collisions] have more of a potential to cause severe injury or loss of life. Most people don’t want to run over animals, so their first reaction is to dodge it, which could result in running off the road into a tree or across the lane into another car,” Said Tom McConnell, Greenville resident and Police Officer.

Researchers estimate that 24,000 wildlife-vehicle collisions result in the deaths of animals, while 2,000 result in driver fatalities. 

“I had two cats run under my car […] and I almost swerved off the road trying to not kill a living thing,” said Molly McConnell, Greenville County resident of over 20 years. 

These facts pose an important question: what are some methods of prevention? Some areas have installed fences, overpasses, underpasses, and speed suggestion signs in an attempt to reduce roadkill incidents on highways. However, these methods aren’t always effective, with overpasses only being available in limited areas and animals simply going around fences. Additionally, solutions for regular streets don’t often go further than yellow signs with black deer silhouettes printed on them, which are often ignored by drivers.

To provide this problem with a long-term solution, many environmental changes are needed to ensure that the existing habitats of local animals are protected, lessening the need for animals to venture onto busy roads, potentially causing harm to themselves and drivers as well. 

This issue is not all negative, however. The carcasses of these deceased animals can help scientists learn about the area’s ecosystem, and they can also be used to help scientists understand how they decompose in varying conditions. Additionally, killed animals are a large foodsource to predatory and scavenger animals, such as buzzards, which can also be used by scientists for research on predators. 

Roadkill isn’t necessarily an issue many citizens think about because it doesn’t often cause many serious threats. However, it can tell us a lot about the ecosystems among us and the animals that live in them, so it is important that roadkill rates be monitored so we can hope to understand more about the environment we live in.