Driving to a friend’s house on a recent evening, my oldest son spotted an Eastern Diamondback as it lay on the shoulder of the road on Collier Boulevard. He inherited a passion for reptiles; it’s a family thing. So his first thought was to perform a u-turn as quickly as possible and move the snake to a safe place. Seconds later, he was too late. Someone apparently swerved and ran the snake over and by the look of the cell phone picture he sent me, it looked pretty intentional. The driver likely thought they were doing somebody a favor by killing it. The only favor done was for our local rodent population. The killing of this snake removed just one predator from the wild but added thousands of rats and their future offspring to our ecosystem that the snake would have consumed in its lifetime. Rats that could get in your house, spread disease or eat your food. Incidents like this make me sad. This young rattlesnake, a three footer, beat incredible odds to reach just half its adult length. Somehow it managed to avoid hawks, king and indigo snakes, feral pigs, and yes, people, only to be squished by a driver who turned their car into a weapon.
Our highways are convenient for us but are death traps for animals. It is estimated that one million animals a day are killed on America’s 4 million mile road system by the 243 million cars that drive on them. And no, that statistic doesn’t count bugs; it is squirrels and salamanders, mice and moose. Road kill is just waste unless you’re a vulture. But even they can occasionally become victims by dining too close to the road. Further mortalities to consider are the animals orphaned by these incidents. There are dead Florida panther cubs out there right now because their mother and a car were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Animal Vehicle Collisions (AVCs) cause one billion dollars in property damage annually. And AVCs aren’t just bad for animals, people die, too. 200 of us are killed in our cars every year in AVCs. Another 29,000 people walk away from these incidents with mild to severe injuries. Granted, most of the damage and loss of life occurs in areas heavily populated by whitetailed deer. But deer management is best left to consumptive predators, both animal and human, not cars.
As long as there are roads there will always be animals that die trying to simply get from A to B. It is unrealistic to believe otherwise. So how do we save more human and animal lives? Remember to obey the posted speed limits, especially at night. More wildlife underpasses are needed. More roads need to be fenced so animals are encouraged to use the underpasses. These useful structures save grizzly bears out west and panthers in our own backyard. Yes, these additions to our roads may be costly, but, as they say, the life you save may be your own (or that of a loved one.)