Huge warning boards recently erected at the Matara end of the Southern Expressway carry an unusual caution: “Danger – Peacocks Ahead”.
“After the Galle-Matara stretch of the Southern Expressway opened in March we found that dozens of peafowl were colliding with vehicles,” said an expressway official, explaining why the boards were erected.
The accidents are mostly fatal for the poor peafowls but also result in severe damage to vehicles.
“Suddenly there was a loud bang and the large windscreen of the luxury bus we were travelling in got smashed in,” said a recent traveller, H.B.J. Palitha, describing the moment when a peafowl hit his vehicle. “It was lucky that the collision ended with only damage to the windscreen.”
“The peafowl was gasping for air and died soon afterwards. We had to waste time stranded on the expressway until police arrived to record the incident.” More than 10 buses plying the expressway have been damaged to date due to collisions with peafowl, said K.G. Karunasena, who works as a bus driver on the route.
“Being large birds, peafowl cross the expressway flying low. This is the worst possible height at which a collision can happen, and as they appear from nowhere we don’t have time to slow down our vehicles,” he said.
“Even now, collisions still occur,” Mr. Karunasena said; a double cab travelling in front of him last month had been hit by a peafowl.
Peafowl naturally prefer open areas so the clearances made for the Southern Expressway have provided them an ideal habitat. Peafowl in the area would have been attracted to this newfound playground as the land was being cleared but with the opening of the expressway their playground has turned into their deathbed
Peafowls traditionally inhabit dry zone areas and were not common in this area a decade ago but they have rapidly multiplied in the past few years, local villagers say.
Luckily for these avian victims of the expressway Sri Lanka’s only Wildlife Hospital, managed by Wildlife Conservation Society of Galle (WCSG), is at Hiyare, close to the expressway. WCSG President Madura de Silva says the hospital receives several peafowl victims each month. He said that collisions even happened on the Galle-Colombo stretch but the number of victims increased drastically soon after the Galle-Matara portion of the expressway opened six months ago.
According to Southern Expressway bus drivers interviewed by The Sunday Times most collisions occur in the morning between 6am and 7am when peafowls are active. They do most of their foraging in the early morning and shortly before sunset, which is why accidents are common at these times. The peafowl roam around in small flocks, and this is the time they also usually make their ritualistic dance.
While expressways are built to save travelling time, the risks of a collision killing wildlife, and the risk to human life and property and time spent on official recording of an accident, should make the public think. Surely it would be a good idea to slow down in the areas that are prone to wildlife collision as the large billboards warn?
Plan highways with respect for Mother NatureWith the Government planning the country’s sixth expressway, the 72km Ruwanpura Expressway (E06) that will link Colombo and Ratnapura, environmentalists are stressing the importance of setting up these major roads with minimum damage to the environment.“When it comes to building a new expressway, it is important to avoid taking the easy route sacrificing our wetlands, forest reserves and national parks. Such short-sighted planning and design result in massive long-term ecological harm to the country,” said Rainforest Protectors of Sri Lanka (RPSL) President, Sriyantha Perera. He made these comments based on a recent statement in some media by Deputy Minister (Project) Highways, Ports and Shipping Nirmala Kothalawala that “the proposed expressway would be built on state land and swamps”. Expressways built through flood plains and wetlands end up contributing towards flooding of the surrounding area as the natural storm-water paths become blocked, affecting local people, said Mr Perera.
In June, the Sothern Expressway entrance at Welipanna was flooded and environmentalists allege this was due to water flow being disturbed by the elevated construction across swamps. Environmental Conservation Trust spokesman Sajeewa Chamikara said that while building the three expressways, seven wetland areas and five catchments had been completely or partially damaged. “The highways are located in the south-west monsoon region where heavy showers are expected annually, so this should be a point of concern” Mr. Chamikara added. This is also true for Ratnapura where heavy rains are reported and flooding is a frequent hazard.”
For the planned Ruwanpura Expressway, Rainforest Protectors propose building an elevated expressway above the existing Panadura-Ratnapura highway as the best option without having to further destroy environmentally sensitive habitat, especially the rainforests of Ingiriya and the flood plains of the Kalu Ganga. Let Sri Lanka lead the way in sustainable development in the 21st century on its way to becoming the “Miracle of Asia”, environmentalists say.
Road Number Name Route Length (km)
E01 Southern Expressway (Kottawa-Matara) 128