Road kill spots on the road are hardly pleasant places, usually comprising unfortunate desiccated animals and a screech patch of tires. The Humane Society of the United States estimates that millions of animals a week are killed by cars, making it the number one weapon against wildlife in the country. By other estimates, drivers kill as many as 400 million animals on the road a year.
But MSNBC.com reports that researchers in California are taking a step toward saving wildlife from the crunch of steel on flesh. The one-year project California Road Kill Observation System out of the University of California, Davis, has volunteers searching the roads for photos, species identification and GPS coordinates of various road kill sites. Soon, an app will be available to recruit even more volunteers. Hopes are that this gathering of information will shed some light on animals killed by car and work to prevent them in the future.
Fraser M. Shilling is the lead researcher on the project. According to Shilling, "For some people the only contact they have with wild animals is when they run them over. This is the first time people have been able to record road kill online and I think it will change our understanding of what our road system is really doing to wildlife." So far, the site has 300 registered users and over 6,900 documented kills in California.
According to research, it seems that mules and black-tailed deer have the worst large animal luck with cars in California. As one volunteer wrote of a deer kill, "Deer was completely smashed — lots of blood and guts on the road still — deer had been dragged to the side of the road — obviously a high speed impact as the mph on the road is 55 mph."
The volunteers track the kills by writing in species category (if they can tell,) as well as the location, date and time of the observation. They are encouraged to provide photos when possible. Plans are under way to develop a mobile phone application to record road kill hotspots. Researchers hope that this app would allow accurate location readings with the built-in GPS systems on phones.
Further, researchers hope to use the information to predict road kill “hotspots” and implement signs for crossing and danger zones along roadways. As well as the considerable cost to wildlife, there are $8 billion in damages annually from animal hits on cars, and over 200 people die in collisions with large animals. Recently, the same researchers started a second site for the East Coast: the Maine Audubon Wildlife Road Watch.