Sunday, September 16, 2012

Close Encounters of the Wildlife Kind

Last week, while driving to work, I was saddened by the evidence of car-nage on the roadways--in other words, road kill.  On the 30 minute drive to work, I think I counted three dead raccoons, a couple of expired porcupines, and one unidentifiable blob with a few patches of black fur.

As someone who once had a racing rabbit run straight into the car, I know that it's not always possible to avoid hitting an animal while driving.  Nonetheless, I try to take what steps I can, and hope others do as well.  That being said, I thought it timely to share some insights I acquired while researching a column on this topic a couple of years ago.

The Ontario Ministry of Transportation web site offers some good tips for wildlife avoidance.  According to the site, most deer-driver collisions occur between October and December, with November being the peak month.  The May-June time frame is also risky as various forms of wildlife are attracted to roadside ditches for the salt, and to escape black flies and other insect pests.

Regardless of the time of year, it’s particularly important to be watchful at night and particularly around dusk and dawn, as that’s when the deer tend to be on the move.  Although wildlife collisions occur in Ontario an average of once every 38 minutes, the reality is that many of them occur during the peak danger times:  5 a.m. to 7 a.m., and 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.  At times when wildlife's peak travel times intersect with the main commuting rush, the risk is elevated.

The MTO site offered some tips on wildlife avoidance, so I thought I’d cross reference that with my own experience to see if it held up.

“Scan the road ahead,” was the advice, “and watch for glowing eyes”.  OK, I’ll go with that.   More than once an eerie glow by the roadside has given me the first warning of a potential wildlife encounter--and in fact just last week I saw several sets of eyes, in different spots, glinting in the headlights' beams.

“Never swerve suddenly.”  Uh-oh.  That one, I’ll have to work on.  My reflexes always seem to get the better of me and I’ve found myself taking evasive action to avoid dive-bombing birds, squirrels that can’t seem to make up their minds which of twenty directions they want to go, or blowing trash that I’ve mistaken for a small animal.

“Never assume an animal will move out of your way.”  Partly true.  I once had a stare-down with a moose on the way to Sudbury.  The moose stood.  I waited.  Eventually, he moved.  So I guess the point is, don’t assume they will move right away.

“If one animal crosses, remember others may follow.”  True.  I’ve seldom seen a lone deer crossing the road.  More than once, the follower has waited in the underbrush until the leader was partway across before revealing him or herself.  So I always try to watch for the second animal, or sometimes the third, to make an appearance. 

According to the web site, 89% of wildlife collisions occur outside urban areas, on two-lane roads, and 86% occur in good weather.

But I suppose it could be worse.  On its web site, British Columbia notes that animal hazards include not only deer and moose, but also bears, elk, and bighorn sheep.

So as the days get longer and my commuting hours start overlapping with dawn and dusk, I’ll remind myself to keep an eye peeled for deer.

And I’ll try to be thankful that, in the area I live in at least, I don't need to worry so much about bears and bighorns.