Keep wildlife in mind when you’re on the road
Every year, thousands of wild animals are taken to wildlife rehabilitation centres across the province because they require care for an injury. In many cases, they are injured when they are stuck by a vehicle.
To coexist with wildlife, consider the enormous hardships these intelligent and fascinating wild species encounter because so much of their habitat has been destroyed. Each year they are forced into closer contact with humans and must compete with us for food, shelter and space. With a little understanding, patience and a few precautions and common-sense steps, we can all enjoy the wonderfully interesting wild animals who share our backyards and cities. Keep reading for tips on wildlife friendly driving this year.
Our impact on wildlife in Ontario
According to the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, in 2020 there were over 10,000 collisions involving wildlife on the province’s roads. Ontario Nature puts the annual total around 14,000. This number reflects only those collisions that are reported and generally involve larger animals such as deer, moose and bear. There are, undoubtedly, countless other accidents involving smaller wild animals that go unreported. Collisions are often fatal for the animals involved and can also be hazardous for drivers. In many cases, these accidents can be avoided if drivers are aware of the potential for such collisions and take simple steps to avoid them.
Take extra caution during high-risk hours
The majority of wildlife-related vehicle accidents in Ontario occur at the beginning and end of the day. Many wild animals are most active in the hours of the early morning and the time following evening sunset. Unfortunately, this is also when visibility tends to be at its worst for drivers.
When traveling at these times of day, it is important for drivers to remain alert and watch for animals that may venture onto the road. It is always best to drive with caution, but reducing your speed can also mean saving an animal’s life. This is because lower vehicle speed will make it easier to stop if an animal suddenly appears in front of you.
Watch for the glow of eyes on the side of the road reflected in your headlights, and remember that some species travel in groups, so there may be more than one animal crossing. Be particularly cautious when driving in moose country, as they can be very difficult to see at night.
It is also important not to overdrive the distance of your lights. Be extra careful if you are driving in rural areas where there may be more wildlife activity. Exercise caution when rounding a curve, reaching the crest of a hill, or anywhere visibility is limited.
Finally, you may also want to consider taking a defensive driving course to learn techniques and emergency maneuvers that could help you avoid hitting an animal.
Ensure you’re not enticing animals onto the road
Throwing food or food wrappers out of car windows is not only littering and polluting, it may also endanger animals by attracting them onto the road. Household garbage is also a source of attraction for animals on roadsides. Putting garbage out the morning of collection, rather than the night before, and using wildlife-proof containers is a good way to prevent animals from lingering on the roadside.
Watch for warning signs placed in common collision areas
The Ontario Ministry of Transportation places warning signs in areas where deer and moose collisions are common. Collisions with large animals such as these are especially dangerous and often result in suffering because the animal is often seriously injured, but not killed, by the vehicle.
If you see a sign indicating that the area is an animal crossing, take extra caution in these areas. You may also wish to consider purchasing ultrasonic devices that emit a sound inaudible to humans, but which claim to frighten large animals such as deer, causing them to run away instead of remaining “frozen” in the middle of the road. Ultrasonic devices are available at hardware stores and are a relatively inexpensive way to help prevent vehicle collisions with wildlife.
Ask your municipality to plan wildlife-friendly roads
Urge your local government to plan roads with the interests of wildlife in mind. For example, many wildlife fatalities could be avoided through simple measures such as:
- Lowering speed limits in areas heavily travelled by wildlife
- Clearing grass and shrubs from the shoulders of roads to deter wildlife from these areas and make them more visible.
- Installing overpasses or underpasses for wildlife to safely cross highways
Initiatives have been undertaken in many places in North America, Europe and Australia to protect wildlife from unnecessary motor vehicle collisions. In Canada, the highway that runs through Banff National Park is the best example.
According to Parks Canada, proper fencing of the highway and the construction of wildlife underpasses and overpasses have greatly reduced roadkill deaths. It was largely due to the public advocating for the value of wildlife protection that these measures were put in place.
Learn more about their wildlife protection research here.
Show compassion for injured animals
Often, concerned motorists do not know what to do when they pass injured animals on busy roads. Sometimes it is impossible to interfere without risking your own safety, so it is important to use good judgment in these situations. If it seems unsafe to stop, call for help as soon as possible.
If you do not know the phone number of your closest wildlife rehabilitation centre or municipal animal control, dial the operator for assistance, or call 311.
If you are able to stop and assist an injured animal, you will need to do so with caution. Wild animals do not understand you are attempting to help them and they may become aggressive. You may want to have the following items in your car in case of emergency:
- Ventilated cardboard box or cardboard cat carrier
- Towel, blanket and pillowcase
- Protective eyewear
- Rubber gloves
- Thick work gloves
- Thin board to use as a stretcher
- Collapsible safety cones or pylons
- Rubber mat or similar item to handle porcupines
If you can safely do so, pull over to the shoulder and turn on your four-way flashing lights. If you do not feel comfortable handling the animal and you have a cell phone, call for assistance. If the animal cannot be moved, place a pylon near the animal until help arrives. This will alert traffic and reduce the animal’s chances of being hit again.
If the animal appears non-aggressive and is small enough to carry, carefully place it in a towel lined box and drive to a nearby wildlife rehabilitation centre or veterinary clinic. Otherwise, carefully place the animal on the stretcher board and drag him off the road. Moving dead animals to the side of the road can also prevent further accidents. An animal’s mate or young are at risk if they venture out onto the road in an attempt to help their family member. Predators and domestic animals are also at risk if an animal’s body remains on the road and serves as a source of interest to them.
Turtles, frogs and other slow-moving animals are frequent victims of vehicle collisions. Whenever possible, take time to help them cross the road. Always move the animal in the direction in which they were headed initially, otherwise, they will only turn around and go back across the road.
Give wildlife a voice
Talk to your friends and family about wildlife friendly driving habits so that more people are taking steps to help protect wildlife!
For a list of wildlife rehabilitators, and to find one closest to you, click here.
Thank you for your dedication
Thank you for your dedication to helping the animals. Every animal deserves a loving home and to be treated royally. Just imagine a day without animal cruelty. What a wonderful day that would be!