Protecting the protected : reducing wildlife roadkill in protected areas

18 Apr 2019

Social media discussions highlight public concern for wildlife‐vehicle collisions (WVCs) inside protected areas. Using a quasi‐experimental field trial, we investigated factors affecting the likelihood of WVCs within Pilanesberg National Park, South Africa, and assessed the comparative effectiveness of wildlife‐warning signage (WWS) for altering driver behaviour. We laid a dummy snake crosswise on roads across four combinations of habitat and road shape and recorded 10 driver‐related variables for 1454 vehicles that passed the dummy snake, including whether there was a collision. An interaction between speeding and driver occupation (staff/visitor) was the best indicator for WVC. When driving below the speed limit, visitors were almost three times more likely than staff to hit the dummy snake. Collision probabilities increased when speeding and became more similar between visitors and staff, although still significantly higher for visitors. We then investigated the effectiveness of roadside signage in modifying driver behaviour by erecting four variations of WWS, depicting a snake or a cheetah, and in photographic or silhouette form. We positioned the dummy snake 100 m or 1 km after the signage and recorded our 10 variables (n = 6400 vehicles). Sixty‐one per cent of drivers who passed a WWS changed their behaviour when they saw the dummy snake, compared to 37% with no sign present. Further, this behaviour change significantly reduced collisions, where 98% of drivers who changed their behaviour avoided a collision. Finally, an interaction between the animal depicted and distance before the dummy snake affected collisions. A WWS depicting a snake, and placed 100 m before the dummy snake, was most effective at reducing collisions. Our results suggest that drivers adapt their behaviour to signage that portrays smaller animals and awareness retention is low. Ultimately, to reduce WVCs within protected areas, we suggest steeper penalties for speeding and WWS placed in WVC hotpot areas.