It doesn’t matter if busy traffic is roaring by – big mammals like bears and deer will still cross highways and a myriad of smaller creatures will likely be squished by car tires. In just two years along one stretch of highway in Utah, 98 deer, three moose, two elk, multiple raccoons, and a cougar were killed in car collisions—a total of 106 animals. In the United States, there are 21 threatened and endangered species whose very survival is threatened by road mortalities, including Key deer in Florida, bighorn sheep in California, and red-bellied turtles in Alabama.
That’s why avoidance measures that provide wildlife with an alternative route across busy roadways are key to both protecting wildlife populations and ensuring vehicle safety. Wildlife bridges and tunnels work at doing just that, so why aren’t more of these vital infrastructure projects being built?
Bridges and tunnels are a key factor in protecting wildlife and people.
As humans have spread across the globe, we have built an expansive system of highways and travel routes, often right through the middle of the wilderness. While these roadways allow us to travel virtually anywhere, animals can often get caught in the middle of the road and get hurt.
To remedy this problem, engineers have begun building ‘animal bridges’ across highways to help wildlife cross safely. These life-saving projects have been popular in Europe since the 1950s when the first was built in France— and they’re now showing up worldwide. These crossings may be invisible to drivers. But they’re helping countless species, from gold monkeys and pumas in Brazil to jaguars in Mexico.
The wildlife bridges help avert some of the billions of animal deaths that happen on the roads every year around the world and counteract unintended consequences of human infrastructure.
Why are these animal crossings so helpful at saving wildlife?
One of the most looked-to examples of successful wildlife overpasses is in Banff, over the Trans-Canada Highway. A study there shows that in just one two-mile stretch, wildlife-vehicle crashes reduced from an average of 12 a year to 2.5, reducing costs of crashes by 90 percent—over $100,000. It’s statistics like these that have led to the addition of crossings there over the last two decades.
There’s even a crab bridge in Australia.
Christmas Island is home to thousands of crabs that migrate each year, and this crab bridge was built in a rather intriguing shape. Crabs are obviously much different than other wildlife, so this bridge was built to maximize the ability of traffic to pass underneath while still providing viable passage for crabs.
And a turtle tunnel in Japan.
In Japan, they have specially designed “Turtle Tunnels” for these venerable reptiles underneath their train tracks. This is, frankly, adorable.
In New Zealand, they built a network of penguin underpasses.
In New Zealand, they have specially designed tunnels to allow penguins to traverse human transportation networks. How cool is that?