Earth has a lot of roads. The planet is now striped with about 40 million miles (64 million kilometers) of them, according to the CIA World Factbook, or roughly 28 times the length of all navigable rivers.
Roads are obviously important, but they also endanger a wide variety of wildlife, both by dividing up their habitats and by bombarding them with cars when they try to defy that division. About one in 20 of all U.S. traffic accidents is animal-related, according to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). These collisions kill more than 200 Americans every year, along with millions of wild animals.
"Slow-moving animals like turtles and salamanders are at high risk of roadkill, especially when they try to cross a road to reach mating or nesting sites on the other side," the FHWA explains on its website.
That makes the video above, titled "Wildlife Crossing!", all the more pertinent and poignant. Created by Anomalia, an international network of 3D-animation artists, it tells the story of two doting snails whose romance is suddenly jeopardized by a busy highway. The short film was conceived as a proof of concept for Anomalia's collaborative approach, which uses the Internet to connect writers, animators and other artists from around the world — including co-director Anthony Wong, whose day job is at Pixar.
"Because of technology, this is the future model of animation filmmaking," Wong says in a video statement about the film's production. "The project was done in the Czech Republic, but it was truly an international effort. And this is only possible because of the Internet."
Not only is it visually impressive, but "Wildlife Crossing!" also sets a clever love story amid the growing tension between habitats and highways. Love often does inspire animals to risk their lives by crossing roads, and yellow warning signs can't always give drivers enough of a heads-up. The best solution is to prevent animals from venturing into roads in the first place — both by exercising restraint in where we build new roads, and by giving animals safer options than simply darting through traffic.
Those safer options are increasingly popular around the world, resulting in bridges and tunnels — also known as "ecoducts" — designed to help wildlife bypass busy roads. The first of these crossings were built in France in the 1950s, and they've since become popular in other countries, especially the Netherlands, which now has hundreds of them. The concept has also spread to North America in recent decades, where ecoducts now assist wildlife ranging from salamanders to panthers. Canada's Banff National Park has installed dozens of wildlife bridges and tunnels, for example, which were used more than 95,000 times between 1996 and 2008 by large mammals including elk, bears and wolves.
In addition to helping animals avoid becoming roadkill, these wildlife crossings can benefit entire species by reconnecting fragmented gene pools. It's difficult to know how often snails would use a designated ecoduct, but in general these crossings enable better genetic diversity among wildlife, a common problem for rare or endangered species as their populations dwindle. On an individual level, that means more opportunities for love — and maybe fewer wild rides on clown-face kites.
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- Roadkill survey turns cyclists into scientists
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- How U.S.-Mexico border policy is devastating wildlife