Make our roads safe for wildlife too

IT’S a frantic fight for survival and they are losing badly. They are killed by illegal hunting in the forests, and at the fringes, they face the wrath of farmers or planters.

As if that’s not tragic enough, Malaysia’s endangered wildlife species are now also ending up as roadkill.

On Christmas Eve, a sun bear died after being knocked down by a motorcyclist on the East Coast Expressway 2 (LPT2) near Kuala Dungun.

Earlier the same day, a tapir was hit by a car on the Gua Musang-Kuala Krai trunk road. Appallingly, a group of men who found the carcass skinned and mutilated it.

Two days earlier, another tapir died after being struck by a car along the Seremban-Kuala Pilah road.

According to Deputy Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Dr Hamim Samuri, 2,130 animals, mostly endangered species, have been killed in road accidents over the past five years.

Tapirs were at the top of the roadkill list last year, but the slaughter also included elephants, sun bears, tigers, binturong, leopard cats, and the Sumatran serow.

Based on the files of the Department of Wildlife and Parks (Perhilitan), most of the deaths have been recorded on 61 road and highway networks in the peninsula.

Five routes are the deadliest for these poor creatures – the Kuala Lipis-Gua Musang road, the Kulai-Kota Tinggi stretch, the Gua Musang-Kuala Krai highway, LPT2 and the Taiping-Selama trunk road.

There are fears that the East Klang Valley Expressway (EKVE), which will cut through 106ha of degazetted Ampang forest reserve, will imperil the movement of wildlife, especially foraging mammals.

Already there have been sightings of the Sumatran serow near Ukay Perdana, indicating that construction of the new highway has disturbed the habitat of this rare species.

Wildlife conservationists are worried that the construction of the Malaysia-Singapore High-Speed Rail project and the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) will similarly impact endangered animals.

What can be done to prevent the accidents and needless deaths of threatened species?

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar has proposed a meeting involving several ministries, the Public Works Department, the Road Transport Department and the police to discuss the issue.

According to a report in a local daily, he said drivers who disregarded wildlife crossing signs should be fined heavily, adding that there were 236 signboards and 113 hotspots.

But then, who in the right mind would want to collide with any animal on the road?

Accidents involving wildlife not only threaten endangered species but also jeopardise drivers and passengers in the vehicles.

Instead of just more signs, a more effective animal detection system is needed to prevent such collisions.

Perhaps the minister and his officials should consider what a Brazilian biologist and two of her friends have created to prevent wildlife-vehicle crashes.

Fernanda Delborgo Abra set up ViaFauna, an electronic animal detection system for roads and highways, with two partners – Mariane Rodrigues Biz Silva and Paula Ribeiro Prist.

The system, powered by solar panels, was developed with support from the São Paulo Research Foundation.

It comprises a pair of motion sensors (transmitter and receiver) fixed on short poles just like those used for speed traps and installed 100m apart. Each pair of sensors covers a road kill hotspot.

The transmitter sends the receiver a beam of infrared light invisible to humans and other vertebrates.

When the beam is interrupted by an animal, the sensor transmits a signal to the pole, which in turn conveys the information via radio, activating an electronic message panel or a revolving beacon on top of an animal crossing sign.

The system, which has reportedly reduced the number of collisions by 90%, warns drivers hundreds of metres or even a kilometre ahead of an actual animal crossing, giving them time to take precautions.

It is more effective than a mere sign warning that wildlife may cross the road.

ViaFauna’s system targets wild and domestic animals over 3kg because of their detectability and impact on road safety and shows how many creatures cross the road successfully, contributing to studies of animal movement dynamics.

Let’s hope that a comparable system can be implemented in Malaysia.

The bigger problem, of course, is the flourishing illegal wildlife trade, which is driving many species towards extinction along with the widespread perception that Malaysia is a major hub for illegal trafficking of animal parts, especially ivory.

On Aug 29 last year, the Sabah Customs Department seized three tonnes of elephant tusks and five tons of pangolin scales at the Sepanggar Port. The China-bound shipments were traced to Nigeria.

The department seized eight tonnes of pangolin scales at the same port, exactly a month earlier.

At about the same time in the peninsula, Perhilitan found 2,000 reptiles and dozens of wildlife parts in separate operations conducted in Kelantan and Perak.

Enforcement officers arrested a Vietnamese man with more than 200 parts of protected species, comprising sun bear claws and teeth, tiger claws and teeth and Sambar deer horn, among other things.

According to WWF-Malaysia’s executive director and CEO Datuk Dr Dionysius Sharma, poaching and wildlife trafficking are threatening the survival of many distinctive species in Malaysia, including the critically endangered Malayan tiger.

The battle between poachers and conservationists continues daily, even in the Belum-Temenggor Forest Complex, a key tiger conservation priority site.

  • Media consultant M. Veera Pandiyan likes this quote by Albert Einstein: If a man aspires towards a righteous life, his first act of abstinence is from injury to animals.
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