Wildlife-vehicle Collisions – a Threat to Both People and Nature

Wildlife-vehicle collisions are more common than you may think. In Canada, it’s estimated that one occurs roughly every 38 minutes. Each year in Ontario, 14,000 wildlife collisions are reported for large animals, which account for approximately 10% of all vehicle accidents in the province. Statistics documenting the impact of road collision on smaller animals – like frogs, squirrels and songbirds – however, are limited and often difficult to measure.

Read on to find out what to look for on the road and how to avoid dangerous situations that are common in most wildlife-vehicle collisions.

Moose crossing a road
© mrbanjo1138 CC BY-ND 2.0

High Risk Situations: Seasonal Timing of Wildlife Collisions

Two-lane roads account for 89% of wildlife collisions. Warning signs and geographical indicators such as wetlands, lakes, rivers, ponds and dense forests indicate you are in a higher risk area for animal crossings.

In addition to your location, the time you are driving is just as important. Driving at dusk or dawn during fall or summer months is especially risky. Moose are at highest risk during the months of June, July, and August. Deer migrating during the fall, especially October and November, are most at risk at this time of the year. Turtle collisions are most common during their mating, nesting and spring migration period of May, June, and July, and hatchlings in September and October. Snakes are commonly found on roads during the spring and summer foraging for food, and in the early fall during hatching season.

Eastern foxsnake on road
Eastern foxsnake, endangered © Joe Crowley

Tips to Avoid Collisions

  • Always pay attention to the road and ensure your copilot does the same
  • Keep a look out for glowing eyes on the road when driving at night
  • Slow down or stop, if safe to do so, when you see an animal ahead. Some animals travel in groups so wait for other animals that might be travelling behind
  • Be prepared for an animal to freeze in the middle of the road, which is a common reaction with deer
  • Be aware of turtles nesting on road shoulders
  • Make note of another vehicle’s lights as flickering can be an indication that an animal is crossing
  • Travel at a safe speed and distance from other vehicles

Help Species at Risk

Wildlife collisions not only pose risk to the people and animals involved in the incident, but they can contribute to population declines for rare or endangered species. Roads are a major threat to reptiles, particularly turtles. In Ontario, there are 8 species, all of which are listed as at-risk federally, and seven of which are listed as at-risk in Ontario. Given that turtles are long-lived species that don’t reach reproductive maturing until they are 8–20 years old, together with a low survival rate for hatchlings and juveniles, very small increases in the mortality rates can have significant impacts on their populations.

Here are some tips to help our slow-moving friends cross the road:

  1. Learn to identify turtles on the road and watch for what can look like oil slicks or bumps
  2. Slow down on the roads, especially during nesting season (May, June and July)
  3. Give a wide space when passing a turtle on the road, using flickering lights to notify oncoming vehicles
  4. Report turtle road sightings (and other species) to the Ontario Road Ecology Group
  5. If it’s safe to do so, help them cross the road:
    • To move them place one hand on their plastron (underside) and the other on their carapace (topside) – this handling technique works best with smaller turtles
    • Hold them on the back half of their body as they will not be able to reach their head around to bite you
    • Never pick turtles up by their tails
    • Always move them in the direction they were headed
    • If available, use work gloves to avoid scratching
    • For snapping turtles, you can also use a shovel, towel, or car mat to carefully move them as they may snap at you when approached
    • If a turtle is nesting, do not disrupt her
    • Do not under any circumstances dig up the nest as it may damage the eggs and is illegal. Follow these tips instead.
  1. If a turtle is found injured:
    • Gently guide them to the side of the road
    • If you can, place them in a dry and ventilated container – preferably one with a lid. Do not provide water or food until you’ve contacted a wildlife rehabilitator
    • Call your nearest wildlife rehabilitator center (like Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre, Toronto Wildlife Center or Sandy Pines) to arrange pick up
    • Even dead female turtles can sometimes have their eggs harvested – consult with the wildlife center if this is the case
    • Report your sighting to the ‘Herps for Ontario’ project on iNaturalist
Cars driving below a wildlife overpass
Wildlife overpass © Jon Dawson CC BY-ND 2.0

What Other Solutions Exist?

Fortunately, there is a solution for helping to mitigate wildlife-vehicle collisions: wildlife crossings.

Wildlife crossings are underpasses, overpasses or other structures that allow animals to safely cross roads and other human-made barriers and reduce the risk of colliding with a vehicle. For example, the 69 Burwash Overpass located in Sudbury and situated over Highway 69 is regularly used by deer, moose, black bears, red foxes, coyotes and wolves – just to name a few.

Additionally, structures like the Ojibway Parkway Wildlife Overpass in Windsor, Ontario, provide endangered species, like the eastern foxsnake, with a means of safely crossing over the highway.

To learn more about how wildlife in Ontario is impacted by this issue, check out the resources listed below and this article in our award-winning magazine, ON Nature.

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