Bridges for wildlife, new lessons for us

When the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) announced the construction of five animal crossings over Goregaon-Mulund Link Road last September, the move was rightly welcomed as being both appropriate and progressive. It is expected that these crossings  will help to dramatically bring down the incidence of roadkills.

Crossing Featured
Image courtesy: Montana Department of Transportation

Victims of roadkill: we see them every time we’re on a journey. Dogs, cats, squirrels, monkeys, snakes and many others. Sometimes, even the bigger and endangered animals such as tigers, panthers and elephants become victims.

Lambs
Image courtesy: Montana Department of Transportation

According to a study by conservationist Sanjay Gubbi, 23 leopards were killed in road accidents from July 2009 to June 2014 in Karnataka alone.

For us, roads and bridges connect; not so for animals though, for whom they become barriers that break familiar habitats into fragmented islands. With grazing spaces becoming more and more limited, these animals find themselves having to cross dangerous roads and railway tracks. A recent effort to protect wildlife in Montana by building animal crossings has produced surprising results.

Crossing2
Image courtesy: Montana Department of Transportation

Wildlife-oriented highway

When the Montana Department of Transportation proposed to widen a US highway, the CSKT (Confederated Salish and Kutenai Tribes) opposed this idea, citing the harm it might cause to wildlife in the territory and to the natural wonders there.

banff-crossing
Image courtesy: Izismile

Later, the department engineers collaborated with the tribes to design a solution: a wildlife-oriented highway project. Under this programme, the 56-mile segment of highway will have 41 underpasses and overpasses that will help both fish and fauna. This cause is supported, among others, by Montana State University and Defenders of Wildlife

Bears
Image courtesy: Montana Department of Transportation
jackal
Image courtesy: Montana Department of Transportation

What happened later?

As these underpasses and overpasses looked green and safe, animals started to recognise and use them.

In due course, motion cameras captured the animals choosing to cross by bridges that went over the road instead. Animals also started to teach their cubs how to cross these bridges.

Tiger
Image courtesy: Montana Department of Transportation

Earlier, thousands of deer, western painted turtles, mountain lions, wolves and moose were killed while crossing these roads. This smart experiment proved to have positive results, as wild animals in Montana started to use the bridges for their own safety.

Birkenau Germany
Image courtesy: Birkenau, Germany, Photograph via h4m on Reddit

The History of Wildlife Bridges:

France is reputed to have built the first wildlife bridges in the 1950s. In the United States and some European countries, different crossing structures have been built since then to help wildlife negotiate the increased flow of traffic. In the Netherlands, these bridges have helped to increase the population levels of the endangered European badger.

While such bridges do pose the threat of making animals easily accessible to predators, these crossings have certainly made humans more sensitive to the needs of wildlife.

Note: Wrote for Folomojo.

Raghava Maitreya

Journalist, Writer, Poet, life and business strategist, living in Bangalore, India. Connect with me on Twitter - @RaghavaMaitreya Write to me - raghavawrites@gmail.com