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Turtles saved from roadkill 'slaughter'

From BBC - May 31, 2017

For anyone on a long drive on a country road, one of the bleakest sights is the amount of roadkill you see punctuating the passing miles.

It shows the fatal incompatibility between our need to get to places quickly and wildlife trying to get across a road.

In terms of the odds being stacked up against an animal, it's particularly bad news for the slow-moving turtle. They are not exactly going to sprint away from danger.

But research published by academics at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, reports on the major success of a scheme to reduce roadkill.

The findings are claimed to provide lessons for the global problem of animal deaths on roads.

Worst roadkill

The project focused on a road claimed to have one of the worst roadkill rates in the world. Long Point Causeway, a road beside Lake Erie in Ontario, runs through a nature reserve - a Unesco "biosphere reserve" - which is home to a number of endangered species of turtles.

But this mix of slow animals and fast traffic has meant a terrible rate of attrition. On a stretch of road less than three miles long, 10,000 animals, from 100 different species were being crushed each year, including many rare turtles.

Turtles are relatively slow to reproduce - some species can be 20 years old before they lay their first eggs. It means that generations are replaced only slowly and the survival of turtle populations can be threatened by such loss of life from passing traffic.

Global education

The study, Mitigating Reptile Road Mortality, examined the 1.6m, Long Point Causeway Improvement Project, that tested different ways to stop turtles and snakes becoming roadkill.

Could drivers be persuaded to behave differently?

Researchers found that permanent road warning signs made little difference - as drivers soon stopped paying any attention.

Turtle recall

More effective has been the use of a temporary electronic message board, put on display only during the peak summer months for animal road deaths.

"It's quite common now for people to stop and help a turtle across the road rather than run over it," said project co-ordinator, Rick Levick.

But a separate study, using dummy rubber turtles and snakes, had also shown that some drivers deliberately tried to hit the animals.

So rather than urging drivers to be more careful, the big challenge has been stopping turtles getting on to the road in the first place.

Culverts were dug below the surface to allow turtles and snakes to cross safely, and fences and barriers were constructed along the road to force them to use these underpasses.

Roadkill prevented

Need for evidence

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