Thursday, 12 October 2017 | MYT 12:00 AM
Damaging impact of highways on wildlife
SAHABAT Alam Malaysia (SAM) is appalled at the frequent occurrences of roadkills affecting our endangered species. It has been reported that since 2011, wild animals such as civets, wild boars, marbled cats and tapirs 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 Natural Resources and Environment Minister in a Bernama report on July 14, 2016, these protected species were killed on federal, state and municipal roads throughout the country.
Not surprisingly, most accidents occurred in or near forested areas where wild animals cross the road to get from one forest area to another.
Despite the efforts of SAM and other wildlife NGOs to increase awareness on the harmful effects of roads to wildlife, road density continues to increase throughout the country.
Federal and state governments and local transport 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, ushering in a flood of settlers who destroy both the rainforest and the indigenous cultures. Public land-managing agencies also 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.
Roadkill does have a significant impact on wildlife population. The greatest threats facing wildlife are vehicles on high-speed motorways. Unpaved roads are less dangerous.
Increases in traffic volume result 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 reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates and birds? Snakes are particularly vulnerable to roadkill as the warm asphalt attracts them. And 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 in these circumstances.
The questions are: How effective are the animal crossings in ensuring a reduction in roadkills?
Have studies been conducted to find the percentage of wildlife using the constructed animal crossings?
In fact, roadkills should not occur at all if there is proper planning among the various agencies before construction of roads and highways through wildlife habitats begins.
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 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 them.
The Works Ministry and the Malaysian Highway Authorities (MHA) must not turn a blind eye to the negative impacts of new roads and highways on the environment.
Roadkills can be avoided if these government bodies show a high level of concern on 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.
S.M. MOHD IDRIS
Sahabat Alam Malaysia