We all have seen the familiar sight of a mangled animal carcass lying tossed by the side of the highway. In the American West, you often find the remains of coyotes or mule deer lying along largely-deserted roads, and in the chaotic cities of India, the bodies of stray dogs and cats are a common sight on city roads, while wildcats and deer litter the sides of roads in rural regions.

A large price to pay for development @ Nagarahole NP, Karnataka (Conservation India)

Development is an important part of building human civilisation, and roadways are an integral part of developing a nation. In a country such as India, where a majority of the human population resides in a rural setting, roadways provide an important network of communication and resources between the quickly-developing cities and the slower growth seen in villages and small towns. Roadways create bridges between otherwise different worlds – the world of the fortunate and the world of those who are left behind in the race to make India a world power.

But in creating roadways to ensure a bright future, we are inadvertently spelling out doom for our own species as well as for the other species that live alongside us. Development largely occurs at the expense of natural spaces – forests are mowed down for cities to expand, rivers are dammed to divert water for villages and agricultural plots, and mountains are mined heavily for the metals that we covet for our high-tech appliances.

Image by Conservation India

Roads link human settlements…and fragment wildlife habitat. One of the driving forces behind the movement to designate and build wildlife corridors was to avoid the hazards that roads pose towards wildlife. Roads travel through rare and limited habitats and niches, divide territories of large wildlife, and impede the free dispersal of migratory terrestrial species, such as elephants. They also prevent gene flow, creating genetic bottlenecks and increasing the threat of extinction of a species, and encourage the proliferation of weeds (Tamil Nadu Forest Department). Various studies have been conducted on the effects of roads on dispersing wildlife.

Gaur crossing a road in Nagarahole NP, Karnataka, in front of a large bus (Conservation India)

Even national parks are not entirely able to protect wildlife from the far-reaching extents of roads. Bandipur National Park, located in southern Karnataka, has two national highways – NH-67 and NH-212 – cutting through it, and speeding vehicles pose a grave threat to the charismatic large fauna within the park (Conservation India, Daily Mail). Another tiger reserve in Tamil Nadu – Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve – is bisected by NH-209, connecting Mysore and Coimbatore, which is used by approximately 2800 vehicles per day (The Hindu). A 28-km stretch of this highway runs through the park and is a major cause of mortality for tigers, leopards, elephants, wild dogs, and gaur in the park. In other cases, such as seen in Mudumalai National Park, roads in national parks can change long-standing wildlife behaviour (Conservation India).

So what can be done about this?

It is nearly impossible to pull up a road that has already been built, but there are ways to prevent wildlife casualties from these roads. One suggestion is to place speedbreakers at a high frequency on stretches of roadways cutting through national parks and protected areas to prevent speeding and thus reduce wildlife mortality. A second suggestion is to increase forest department or police presence along roadways through protected areas or around wildlife congregation zones/crossings to enforce slower speeds in these areas. Increasing awareness through campaigns and large, bright road signs will also go a long way in sustaining both development and conservation.


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