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The tragedy of 'roadkill' close up, and why tracking dead animals on roads is necessary.

The more we see, close up, the less we can ignore.

Animals, birds, frogs, snakes, turtles ... wildlife is hit and injured or killed on our roads every day. From the distance and speed of a car, the tragedy of roadkill barely registers. Close up, it is an entirely different thing. The death, often not as instant as we might hope, is imprinted on faces of creatures, their mangled positions, the particular tragedy of young animals mashed into pavement.

The last photo I took was of a racoon on July 25th, 2016 dead on the centre line near my house, on a stretch of road where raccoons are killed regularly. It was a grotesque image, one of two animals travelling together, feet apart from each other, both dead. One of the animals heads was literally mashed flat on the pavement. The insensitivity of driving (and drivers, i.e. us) is vivid at such close range. Most people never look close enough to witness the pain that registers on faces that were hit as they tried to run fast enough to get across a road. And we don't look on purpose.

Close up, the tragedy of roadkill is impossible to ignore or blot out. There is something that gnaws at the brain and heart about the image of an animal or other creature smushed into garbage, and left like garbage where it died - caused by us. To me, it is a symbol of how we are treating the natural world: as an afterthought. Or as not a thought at all.

I haven't been able to take a photo of a wild victim of a vehicle collision since I took the image of the racoon's head smushed flat. It was more than I wanted to see, or share. But it is important to develop a record of where and when wildlife is killed, and it is important that we witness and acknowledge the 'collateral damage' of our continual and pervasive road building and driving.

I worry that wildlife will not survive us, or most species won't. Many animals die or are sequestered into smaller and smaller chunks of land by roads, and their inability to cross. There are other unseen impacts: millions of bees and insects are lost to vehicles and roads each year. These impacts affect food production, and food availability up the wild food chain, but considerations of such "small' losses aren't considered in environmental assessment or development decisions.
The impacts of driving and road development on wildlife are intense and wide reaching, though wildlife is often not even mentioned in transportation or road safety policy. If it is mentioned, it is only in relation to human safety. If we continue to develop the world around us without accommodating wildlife, it is more likely than not that we won't have wildlife to track on our roads. They simply won't be there.

I am going to get back to tracking wildlife I see on roads because it is important to be a witness, and to develop a record of collision data and hotspot locations in my local area. From now on, though, I will take photos from a distance I can stomach. Close up, road kill can be heartbreaking, and it is hard to continue on if you can't get certain images out of your head.

If you are interested to help track wildlife vehicle collisions in your area, get in touch or sign up. If you walk or bike, you are more aware and most able to see and record this data. More data equals more knowledge and awareness of what is happening to wildlife, close up, on our roads. If we don't know the impacts we are having, we can't learn to share our roads, and build crossings for wildlife to get across.

Posted by wanda_baxter, January 19, 2017 - via iNaturalist Canada - Watch for Wildlife NS Project

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