Fast Roads Slow Deaths



Kangaroo Island is Australia’s third largest island and sits just a few kilometers off the South Australian mainland. Its economy is based on primary industries such as agriculture, and a growing tourist base with over 190,000 visitors travelling to the island each year by plane or ferry.

Touted as one of Australia’s premier wildlife destinations, conservation areas and national parks make up around one third of the island. It is rich in wildlife, and the Kangaroo Island kangaroo is a subspecies, unique to the island. With no natural predators, Kangaroo Island kangaroos are the slowest moving of all kangaroo species.

Each year hundreds of these kangaroos (as well as other Australian wildlife – some listed as endangered) are unfortunately killed, fatally injured or maimed by vehicle impact. Deaths are often slow and traumatic as they are not killed immediately by the impact with one estimate being more than 50% do not die immediately. A significant percentage of these collisions occur from unsuspecting tourists, who are unaware of that many Australian animals become more active between dusk and dawn. On a national level, research published in 2018 noted there were 4 million Australian mammalian roadkill per year and as the majority were  marsupials, an estimated 560 000 orphans were created with only 50 000 of these were rescued, rehabilitated and released by volunteer wildlife carers. 

Despite the well known fact that the chance of hitting a kangaroo (and other wildlife) increase between dusk and dawn as there activity increases, sadly Kangaroo Island still does not have any dusk to dawn speed limit reductions in place to better protect both people and wildlife – especially in the well-known ‘hot spots’.

The trauma however is not just restricted to the kangaroos or the broader wildlife. It also affects the people and passengers in the vehicles that hit the animals, see an impact, or innocently come past later. A sad example can be seen here.

This trauma is not only physical however, but can extend to the psychological. If a kangaroo injured to such an extent that it requires euthanizing, professional help is often some distance away. Extremely tight gun regulations in Australia and the illegality of using a fire arm on or near a road unless authorized (e.g. police), mean that euthanizing animals in field most frequently is carried out using just the most rudimentary implements that may be at hand. For example, a tire iron or rock found by the roadside.

On a good day, if people stop to check a killed kangaroo, sometimes a joey can be found still alive in their dead mother’s pouch. These lucky few – if old enough and triaged appropriately – have the potential to be rescued and cared for by a small group of dedicated people, who look after them in their homes until they are well and mature enough to be relocated.

My full published story of this issue can be found in Australian Geographic August 2016, a link to the piece can be found here.