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ROAD VICTIMS:

An important source of scientific data (extracted from MALAYAN NATURALIST issue Feb 1997)

How often have you driven along the highways and byways of Malaysia and chanced upon the carcasses of wild animals and birds? These are mostly victims of unfortunate encounters with speeding vehicles and oftentimes we never give a second thought to these poor animals. Usually these roadkills are left to decay by the road, but sometimes we see carrion feeders enjoying a jittery meal in the middle of a busy thoroughfare. And if these freeloaders are not careful enough, they themselves may end up in the same sorry state as their dinner.

However, roadkills can and should be utilised as precious sources of scientific information. For instance, they can be used to determine the pres- ence of a certain species in a certain locality, they are important sources of morphometric records and data on the physical and/or physiological con- dition of the animals, they are also indicators for animal population trends and movements and, last but not least, they can be used in stomach content analyses and parasite fauna studies.

For example, I personally found a roadkilled lactating Short-tailed Mongoose Herpestes brachyu rus in Selangor and an adult male Malay Civet Vivvera tangalunga in Negeri Sembilan, in I993. Many studies have been based on roadkills - nearby examples inciude Hughes' work (1984), coilecting mallophagan endoparasites from roadkilled Aus- tralian Magpies, Gymnorhina tibicen, in order to examine morphometric variations between the lice from different host-types; while the feeding and behavioral patterns of Marsh Harriers, Circus aerug- inosus, feasting on, roadkilled animals in New Zealand were investigated by Baker-Gabb ( 1986) . In Malaysia, House Crows, Corvus splendens, and Common Mynahs, Acridotheres tristis, are often seen feeding on road victims.

If one is interested in collecting intact, freshly killed specimens, one can do so by putting the car- casses into ice chests or for smaller animals, speci- men jars filled with diluted preservatives, to be transported to the laboratory for further examina- tion and analysis. Alternatively, if one does not intend to inspect or investigate further, one can just take a few snapshots as a photographic record or evidence of the species's presence in the area.

As an animal lover, it saddens me to see quite a number of wild animals meeting untimely deaths on our roads and highways. I am of the opinion that these casualties could be reduced if certain steps and precautions were taken by the authorities and by individual road users. For example, road signs could be installed to warn drivers about the possibility of encountering wildlife along the roads. Along the East-West Highway, in the district of Ulu Kelantan, we can see road signs posted to warn road users about the presence of elephants in the area. I propose that the road signs should include other wildlife such as deer, wild pigs, civets, big cats, snakes, tortoises, monitor lizards, frogs and toads, in areas and habitats where these animals fre- quently cross the road. Also, fencing should be set up to deter wildiife from approaching busy high- ways (such as those set up by PLUS to prevent domestic cattle and goats from trespassing onto the road). These fences could be so constructed as to funnel the animals towards an underpass, so that they can safely cross the road when they wish - perhaps in search of food, a mate, a suitable feeding site, or a territory of their own.

As road users, we could help redace the number of wildlife casualties along the highways by being ever-vigilant and keeping a look-out for

animals that cross the road in front of our vehicles. We could also learn to drive more responsibly especially in areas that are known to harbour a diversity of animal life. Our wild animals make up an important component of our natural heritage and we should strive to preserve them.

References

Adams, C. E., 1983. Road-killed Animals as Resources for Ecological Studies. American Biology Teacher 45: 256-260.

Baker-Gabb, D.J., 1986. Ecological Release and Behavioral and Ecological Flexibility in Marsh Harriers on Islands. Emu. 86: 72-81.

Hughes, J.M.,1984. Morphometric Variation in the Mallophaga of the Australian Magpie ( Gym- norhina tibicen Latham). Australian Zoology 21: 467-478,

Waring, G. H., Griffis, J.L. and Vaughn, M.E.,1991. White-tailed Deer Roadside Behaviour Wildlife Warning Reflectors and Highway Mortality. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 29: 215-233.