Posts Tagged ‘Roadkills’

Time ticks by for tragic painted-snipe chicks

December 26, 2016

Wild and free – time in the outdoors for the orphaned chicks.

Published on SundayTimes on 25.12.2016

Many tragedies that Sri Lanka’s precious wild creatures face do not often make the news, unlike human road traffic fatalities. Heart-warming tales of survival are rarer still.

While a road traffic accident last week claimed the lives of 12 innocents, including 10 from the same family in northern Chavakachcheri,  two new-born greater painted-snipe chicks became survivors of an accident where the father and a newborn perished – yet another reason that drivers should not become assassins.

The Wildlife Conservation Department’s Hikkaduwa office handed over the two chicks to the  Wildlife Conservation Society of Galle and they are now being cared at the Hiyare animal hospital, which has a rescue and rehabilitation program.

WCSG president Madura de Silva suspects that the chicks would have hatched a few days earlier. Volunteers at the animal hospital have fed the chicks with worms and the response has been good after initial difficulties. Painted-snipes usually feed on insects, worms, crustaceans, molluscs and seeds.

Volunteers have also gradually introduced the chicks to the outdoors.

“Their chances of survival are not high, but we are trying our best to save them,” de Silva said. “If they can get through the critical period, then we will try our best to rehabilitate them with an aim of releasing them.’’ The chicks could be introduced to the care of a domesticated ground-dwelling  bird such as a hen, so that the orphans  can pick up survival skills.

The greater painted-snipe (rostratula benghalensis) have long beaks. They are a brightly-coloured ‘snipe’ like bird. Painted-snipe inhabit swamps, marshes and even undisturbed sections of paddy fields. They are more active at night. Chicks are buff coloured and have black stripes running along their body length. The coloration helps keep them camouflaged.

In parenting,  the female, which is more colourful and larger, nurtures the chicks, but the male also shares responsibilities such as helping to incubate the eggs, experts say. The female is  known to initiate courtship and may also mate with more than one male.

A volunteer feeds an orphaned painted-snipe chick. Pix by Wildlife Conservation Society of Galle

The unlucky painted snipe male and a chick

Yala was no sanctuary for this leopard

August 30, 2015
More animals die so that we can ride in comfort 

In more sad news from Yala, the body of a female leopard was found on Friday inside Yala National Park itself, on the verge of the Jamburagala road. The body had no apparent scars but the postmortem revealed the leopard died due to a broken neck (spinal code). There was evidence that some elephants had passed through the area in which the leopard was lying but it was unlikely that the death could have been due to an attack by elephants as adult leopards never confront elephants.

It is probable that the leopard died after being hit by a speeding vehicle, Wildlife Conservation Department (DWC) Director General H.D. Ratnayake said. No culprit has been nabbed yet but there will be an investigation about the death of this leopard, he said.

The female leopard killed by Hit and Run vehicle inside Yala National Park

Female leopard killed by Hit and Run vehicle inside Yala (c) Janakafb Janu

Yala is the busiest national park in Sri Lanka with its key attraction being the leopards. The safari jeep drivers and other visitors always want to see a leopard so any leopard sighting is swiftly communicated through mobile phones to other jeeps that then flock to the area for a glimpse of the prized big cat.

The park is closed every day at 6 p.m., so jeeps that go deep into the jungle without a sense of the time, speed their way toward the exit at closing time, and this could lead to accidents like this. This is not the first leopard killed by speeding vehicles inside Yala National Park. In 2011, a leopard was killed by a speeding vehicle and since then, several animals too has been reported killed by speeding vehicles.

Mobile phones are a big factor in these Mad Max-type situations in Yala as they are used to pass on the message of leopard sightings. Heeding requests from conservationists, the DWC, in collaboration with mobile phone operators, in experimenting with cutting off service inside the park, Mr. Ratnayake revealed.

The network was switched off on alternate weeks this month. The leopard death occurred during a time when phones were active, according to local sources, indicating that a total blackout could improve the situation to some extent. It is, however, the responsibility of visitors not to allow the jeep to speed up for the sighting of a leopard. Jeep drivers speed in order to give tourists a better sighting, which will mean a bigger tip, so ask them not to speed up, conservationists say.

Local sources say that as many as five leopards have died this year in Yala due to various causes. A leopard was killed a few months ago in the buffer zone in Dambewa after being caught in a wire trap. The remains of another leopard was found near Rathmalwewa in Yala about a month ago.

Earlier this week a tourist bus hit a herd of deer on the Kirinda-Yala road, reinforcing concerns that the road has become a death-trap for wildlife as its newly-carpeted surface allows motorists to speed. No carcasses or wounded deer could be seen on the road after Wednesday’s accident but blood on the road indicated that several animals could be badly injured.

It was dark at the time of the accident and the wounded animals sought refuge in the jungle. Conservationists worry that even if these deer do not die as a direct result of their injuries the wounds could become infected and make the animals less mobile,making them easy prey for predators.

Last drop of water - trying to quench thirst of dying deer hit on Kirinda - Palatupana - Yala road on 21st of Aug

Last drop of water – trying to quench thirst of dying deer hit on Kirinda – Palatupana – Yala road on 21st of Aug (c) Sampath Galappaththi

On August 21, a deer was hit and killed by a motorist who sped off without waiting to be identified, leaving the animal suffering by the side of the road. It was the ninth deer known to have been killed in the past three months since that stretch was resurfaced to provide a comfortable ride for park visitors, local resident Sampath Galappaththi said.

The fact that large animals like deer are being killed on the road indicates smaller animals and birds are being killed in larger numbers, unnoticed.

Mr. Galappaththi revealed that carcasses of nightjars, a nocturnal bird, have become a common sight on the road.
Mr. Ratnayake said he was aware of the problem. He said that as the road comes under the Road Development Authority, the DWC would hold talks with the authority to find a solution. In the meantime, he urged motorists to be careful when driving on roads bordering on or passing through through wilderness areas.

Drought break for wildlife
The Yala National Park will be closed for one month from September 7. The Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) announced this week that Yala, the country’s mostly visited national park, is closing during the height of the drought to ease the pressure on the animals from visitors. The break also gives an opportunity to repair infrastructure in the park. The tradition of closing the park at this time started in colonial days when the park was a game reserve providing hunting opportunities. 

Speeding vehicles on roads driving wildlife to their early graves

July 19, 2011

A fully grown sloth bear was killed by a speeding vehicle near the 11th kilometre post on the Panama-Pottuvil road late last month raising concerns over the prudence of having public roads across biodiversity rich National Parks, while vehicles speeding along roads in rural areas also drive wildlife to their graves before their time.

The ill-fated bear was found lying on the side of the road with apparent head injuries. The Ampara office of the Wildlife Department had been promptly alerted, but the animal was already dead due to injuries it suffered. The wildlife veterinary surgeon Dr. Pramuditha Devasurendra who had conducted the post-mortem confirmed the animal died due to damage to its skull. There were signs of profound bleeding from its mouth. The bear’s fur coat also had mud stains indicating it could have been hit by a heavy vehicle with large tyres.

Dr. Devasurendra also said there were signs that the vehicle has gone over one of the animal’s legs. The bear was a well grown male around eight to nine years old. The body of the bear was sent to the Giritale wildlife facility to be stuffed.

Samitha Harichandra, the managing trustee of the Wildlife Research and Conservation Trust of Sri Lanka who visited the accident site soon after he was alerted, recalled spotting a bear on the same stretch of road recently while he was driving at night. He said he had seen the bear on two occasions and the ambulance driver of the area hospital too has confirmed sighting this bear indicating the animal must be roaming around the area (a territorial bear) near the 11th kilometre post.

The sloth bear killed on the Panama-Pottuvil road (c) Samitha Harichandra 

This is the season when the palu and weera berry ripens attracting usually secretive sloth bears out of their hideouts in search of the berries. Mr. Harichandra recalls that there are many weera and palu trees in the scrub jungle on this stretch of the Pottuvil road, luring the secretive bear into the open, making it an unfortunate road victim.

The sloth bear in Sri Lanka is a separate subspecies scientifically categorized as Melursus ursinus inornatus. Their numbers are declining, with them being already categorized as vulnerable to extinction in the IUCN Redlist scale.

Mr. Harichandra says the annual Okanda pilgrim season increases vehicular traffic along this road which becomes a death trap to wild animals of the area. The presence of such a rare animal like the sloth bear is an indication of the quality of the scrub jungle which must be home to many animals.
Harichandra complained that drivers should be more vigilant when speeding on rural roads to avoid killing animals.

He said that as the road network gets better in these areas, drivers tend to speed on long stretches of roads that do not have much traffic. But animals need to move around their natural habitats and require to cross these roads. They virtually have no time to escape from a speeding vehicle, he said.

Slow moving small creatures like tortoises, snakes, and porcupines face the greatest risk when crossing the roads. But even fast movers like civets can fall easy prey at night when they freeze in the middle of the road blinded by the glare of headlights. Some animals like the porcupine have the habit of staying motionless when they feel a threat, making them sitting ducks. Even birds and monkeys can’t escape at times from speeding vehicles.

But it is not only the smaller animals that are being hit by careless drivers. On many occasions elephants have also been hit on public roads. In one such incident at Galgamuwa/Ambanpola, a sleepy bus driver hit an elephant at night on the road near the Thekkakele forest. The front of the bus was badly damaged and the conductor was killed in the accident. A few months later, another elephant was hit by a van and the enraged elephant turned on the humans killing a passenger in the van.

Though these elephants recovered with injuries, there were incidents where jumbos get killed in road accidents. At Medawachchiya, a baby elephant of about four months had been killed instantly when it was hit by a tipper. The accident occurred around 1 a.m. and the body of the calf was badly smashed, indicating the vehicle was traveling at speed. Another calf was the victim of a roadside accident at Habarana last year.

It is however hard to provide a solution to such unfortunate accidents as drivers tend to speed in their vehicles on open stretches.

One way to minimize such accidents is by setting up speed limits and placing warning boards in areas where wildlife is abundant. But while wildlife conscious drivers will take note, it is a question whether reckless drivers will abide by the rules.

At present most of the drivers even do not honour the speed limits set up in populated areas which are also frequently monitored by the Traffic Police. It is virtually impossible to set up traffic checkpoints at night so there is little hope that rules would be observed on remote road stretches. Wildlife lovers call all drivers to be vigilant when driving through remote roads.

Roads across National Parks

With animals being killed by speeding vehicles, wildlife activists question the prudence of opening up of new public roads across Protected Areas. A road across the Wilpattu Sanctuary has been opened last year amidst the objections of the wildlife community and there seems to be attempts to open up other roads. Though speed limits are set and traffic allowed during the daytime in wildlife rich habitats, such roads will still be death traps.

There are other dangers for wildlife as a road will increase human presence which will also increase illegal activities. Poachers will get a ready-made market to sell bush meat. More importantly, a public road will also cause a genetic isolation of animal groups between two sides by restricting animal movements. In a free environment, wild animals would mix with each other but a road will halve their movements isolating them genetically or depriving them of their traditional feeding grounds. This will also degrade the quality of their gene pool.

A tortoise run over by a speeding vehicle (c) Samitha H.

The danger of public roads across national parks was in the international spotlight last month as an attempt to construct a commercial road across some parts of Serengeti National Park in Tanzania has been abandoned.

Each year about two million herbivores including wildebeests and zebras make their way from the Serengeti National Park to the Maasai Mara reserve in Kenya.

Environmental activists raised concerns that the new road will restrict the animals’ movements and halve the animals in the park. Tagged as one of the planet’s greatest natural spectacles attracting thousands of major tourists, the road could have also affected the local economy, in which tourism plays a major role.

The Tanzanian government consequently abandoned the idea of constructing a stretch of 53 kilometres of road to avoid areas of high conservation value.

Likewise, Sri Lankan conservationists also raise the question whether we still need to have roads to make for quicker traveling. If quicker traveling is the need, speed limits cannot be set, ultimately resulting in many road accidents.

Speeding in wildlife parks

Yala National Park has already been infested by the over-visitation bug where around 200 vehicles go in on busy days. The visitors’ prime aim is to have a glimpse of Yala’s star attractions – leopard, bear or elephant. On receiving a message of a sighting, the vehicles rush to the spot to get a better view.

The safari jeep drivers’ often forget they are in a wildlife national park. There is every chance these speeding vehicles too can hit an animal. So if you happen to be in a safari jeep, never allow it to be driven at an uncontrollable speed even though it might cost you a better sighting of a wild animal.

Published on SundayTimes on 17.07.2011