Human madness for road construction threatens apex predators
Tigers and leopards are among the top ten most threatened predators by the global obsession with road building, writes Jeffrey Dunnink.
DESIGNED FOR SPEED and efficiency, roads around the world effectively kill wildlife whose future is intrinsically linked to the future of the planet: apex predators, those species including big cats like tigers and leopards who sit at the top of the food chain and ensure the health of all biodiversity.
This development directly threatens the main habitats of large predators present in these regions and will potentially disrupt the functioning and stability of their ecosystems.
A new study that I co-authored, “Serious Road Conservation Risks on Apex Predators”, confirms that apex predators in Asia currently face the greatest threat from roads, likely due to the region’s high density of roads and the many apex predators found there. Eight of the ten most affected species by roads were in Asia, with the sloth bear, tiger, dhole, Asiatic black bear and clouded leopard topping the list.
The outlook for the next 30 years is even more dire. More than 90% of the 25 million kilometers of new global roads planned by 2050 will be built in developing countries that are home to critical ecosystems and areas rich in biodiversity. The proposed road developments through Africa, the Brazilian Amazon and Nepal are expected to intersect around 500 protected areas.
This development directly threatens the main habitats of large predators present in these regions and will potentially disrupt the functioning and stability of their ecosystems. This is of particular concern where road developments will impact areas of rich biodiversity and where conservation gains have been so painstakingly achieved.
Ironically, as we celebrate the Year of the Tiger this year, road construction in Nepal is set to split tiger strongholds in two, threatening to reverse the remarkable and previously unimaginable progress made to protect the remaining 4,500 wild tigers in the world of extinction. In the Brazilian Amazon, 36,500 kilometers of future roads will be built or upgraded within the home ranges of pumas, ocelots and jaguars.
Naturally, the African Union Development Corridors are designed to promote development and stimulate investment in hitherto overlooked areas. While marginalized communities must have access to development infrastructure and vital investments, this goal can be achieved while preserving the continent’s fragile ecosystems and populations of top predators at risk. As it stands, planned development in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, in particular, is set to devastate one of the largest animal migrations in the world, causing a domino effect on healthy populations of top predators.
It’s important to remember that roads don’t just kill animals that try to cross them; they divide habitat patches into smaller and smaller fragments. Apex predators are disproportionately affected by discontinuous habitats due to their need to roam large undisturbed areas. Research has shown that predators such as the jaguar completely avoid all roads in their habitat, often isolating individuals from the rest of their population.
The ubiquity of roads also presents a barrier for mating between jaguars. This ultimately reduces genetic diversity and population strength and poses a particular threat to top predators due to their large home ranges and small population sizes.
Another unintended consequence of rampant road development is increased poaching. Roads facilitate access to previously wild areas, allowing the expansion of permanent human settlements. More roads make it easier for poachers to reach remote wildlife populations and make it easier to transport illegal wildlife products across a larger area. Indeed, snares for wildlife and poachers are often found at higher rates near roads and human settlements.
Despite these dire consequences, there is a way to achieve human development goals while allowing predators to thrive. Where road projects are deemed vital to the development of an area and surrounding communities, they should be built with wildlife in mind – intentionally sited well outside of protected areas and predator strongholds. Wildlife crossing structures, such as tunnels and underpasses, should be integrated into road planning and budget decisions from the outset. It is only through inclusive planning processes, where the voices of local communities, conservation scientists, road engineers and government officials are all weighted, that sustainable road development can be achieved.
Costa Rica offers an excellent example of this type of collaboration. Although often considered the gold standard for conservation, Costa Rica is home to the highest density of roads in Central America, with a section of Highway 257 Limón-Moín responsible for 4.6 roadkill per year. hour, mainly due to speed.
By monitoring highways for any road accidents, conservation scientists have identified key wildlife crossing areas and informed the construction of structures to ensure their safe passage, from tree crossings for tree species to crossings. underground for flat feet. Above all, the scientists have formed a strong partnership with local and national governments who fully support the concept of “wildlife friendly roads”.
Our future and our health are forever tied to those of non-human animals, and people also benefit from wildlife-friendly roads. The recolonization of cougars in North Dakota is estimated to have reduced the costs of deer-vehicle collisions by more than $1 billion, and scientists estimate that a recolonization of the eastern United States by cougars could reduce deer-vehicle collisions by 22% over 30 years, averting 21,400 human injuries and 155 human deaths, and saving more than $2 billion in costs.
From collisions between wildlife and vehicles to unintentionally creating new pathways for poachers to target our planet’s most beloved wildlife, roads pose a major threat to apex predators. With research confirming that this threat will only intensify over the next 30 years, there is now a small window of opportunity to ensure that these developments do not unduly affect our natural world. By planning roads more carefully, avoiding building them in protected areas, and adopting mitigation measures like wildlife crossings, we can protect top predators and the critical role they play in health and survival. of our planet.
Jeffrey Dunnink is the Furs for Life Coordinator at Panthera, a global feral cat conservation organization.
This article was produced by Earth | Food | Lifea project of the Independent Media Institute.
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