Road ecology blog: Bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) lamb roadkill

July 18, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

One of the bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) lambs I photographed earlier was hit by a vehicle. It was lying dead by the roadside the next morning. Looking back at the photographs of the previous day it is clear which of the two lambs was killed... the fuzzy one with the lighter coloration. A very sad thing, but also quite common. Vehicles regularly crash into bighorn sheep, sometimes whole groups, as the animals are licking road salt, and just a few days ago there was even a tragic human fatality in western Montana as a result of a collision with a bighorn sheep. To some degree animal-vehicle collisions are a logical consequence of us humans driving vehicles and animals crossing roads and wildlife-vehicle crashes will continue to happen for as long as humans drive vehicles and wildlife cross roads. However, with bighorn sheep there is a contributing factor. We apply road salt which we know is a strong attractant for many ungulates, including bighorn sheep. So we knowingly increase the probability of wildlife-vehicle collisions because the danger of snow and ice in winter may be greater and we find alternative de-icers too costly, impractical, or we find them to have other drawbacks. In addition, I was able to observe how some drivers behave around the bighorn sheep that were licking salt off the road surface. While some drivers slowed down and carefully manoeuvred around the animals I was stunned to see some very different driver behavior too. While it was still light and while the the animals were clearly visible on the road, and while I had parked my vehicle on the side of the road with flashers on near the bighorn sheep, indicating danger, some drivers simply chose to not slow down and pass by the animals at about 60 miles per hour (about 100 km/h). These cars passed the animals at only about 3 yards (3 meters)! I really wonder what these drivers were thinking and what triggered them to behave in this way. Is it that these drivers feel that it is their road and that they have the right to drive the speed limit no matter what the situation might be? Is it that they do not consider the possibility that the animals may walk or jump in front of their vehicle at the very last moment? Even if they do not care about the animals, don't they realize that hitting an adult bighorn sheep can cause serious damage to their vehicle, which can be a real hassle, or that in come cases humans get injured or killed too? It takes substantial time to get a vehicle towed from a remote mountain pass, and it takes money, perhaps on average a few thousand dollars, to repair the damages. Slowing down may only end up adding 30 seconds or so to their journey... not a big price to pay to substantially reduce the risk, I think. Apparently not everybody sees it this way; some people choose to behave in a very dangerous manner even when the danger is clearly visible right in front of them. This makes me wonder about the effectiveness of mitigation measures that aim to influence driver behavior rather than measures that physically separate traffic from wildlife. Mitigation measures that aim to influence driver behavior can reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions substantially, but measures that physically separate traffic from wildlife are likely more robust. Click here to see more images of the roadkilled bighorn sheep lamb.

Summer Sale through 31 August 2012

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Bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) lamb roadkill after licking roadsalt on road shoulder, British Columbia, CanadaBighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) lamb roadkill after licking roadsalt on road shoulder, British Columbia, Canada


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