Caution: animals crossing!

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Why did the brush-tailed phascogale cross the road? Kylie Soanes knows, but she’s not telling. She is, however, telling how she convinced that phascogale to cross using rope bridges. Well, not exactly convincing them – rather setting up the situation so that the phascogale, along with a variety of others, including brushtail and ringtail possums, squirrel gliders, and one goanna (lace monitor), will want to cross from one habitat area to another via the rope bridge rather than the road.

One of the reasons I love Kylie’s posts is because they involve simple working solutions to the problem of human impacts on wildlife. Anyone who leaves the urban or suburban areas of Australia will realise that although the land area taken up by human settlement is fairly small, our impact is much larger. This is because the Australian countryside and bush has fairly extensive roads, so the habitat is broken up into distinct pieces or just bisected by bitumen roads or dirt tracks with vehicles hurtling along at speed. So a lot of native animals fall prey to these cars and trucks in their efforts to get from a patch of trees to a waterhole, for example.

Attempts to limit the impact (sadly, quite literal) of cars on these animals vary. Some, for arboreal animals, involve rope bridges like the ones Kylie has constructed. Others also involve bridges, albeit more sturdy ones: the annual migration of red crabs on Christmas Island (off the north-west coast of Australia) has previously meant a substantial toll on the crabs, as their migration path crosses several roads. Overhead bridges were built, with very low fences to ‘corral’ the crabs into walking over the bridges rather than straight across the road. Roads are also signed, and some are closed during the migration, as thousands of red crabs desperate to reach water scurry (well, as much of a scurry as crabs can do) from the rainforest along their favourite paths to the ocean. This post gives a fine description of the migration, as well as some great pictures – the crabs look like a red furry carpet at migration time.

Another attempt to stop animals dying on the roads is being used to preserve the endangered Proserpine rock wallaby. A suite of measures has been implemented by the Australian government, beginning with determining the danger areas, to educating and engaging locals, to testing various means to either dissuade the animals from crossing at all or to make them wait until it’s safer.

I do encourage you to visit Kylie’s blog, because it’s so educational and because it has pictures of cute furry animals (and some cute non-furry birds). One of the important issues that she points out is that even animals that don’t seem to be endangered yet may still have trouble in the future. Many species of possums, for example, have made a fairly good adaptation to urban life, as anyone who has had a family of possums shrieking in their ceiling can attest. But they may still face threats if the trees they depend on for food are replaced by other species, or their habitat ranges in the wild are separated by roads or other dangerous or uncrossable areas.

[Featured image: Christmas Island red crab. Image by Dragon187 in German Wikipedia, licensed under Creative Commons 3.0]

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