Highway Slaughter: Germany's New Anti-Roadkill Offensive

This is one of the reasons hunters are especially keen to test methods of driving wildlife away from the side of the road. Over a million reflectors have been attached to black-and-white reflector posts throughout the country by hunters. When the light from a car's headlights hits the disks, they emit a bluish beam along the edge of the roadway -- in essence, a fence made of light that's designed to make animals hesitate before crossing the road.

In other locations, hunters spray expanding foam -- infused with the odors of lynx, wolves, bears and human beings -- onto trees and stakes on the roadside. These "perfumed fences" are also meant to induce animals into thinking twice before running into a deadly encounter.

One problem with these light and odor barriers: They have been used for decades, and yet the number of wildlife collisions still hasn't declined. "We only want to use measures that have proven to be effective," says Alfred Overberg of the road construction authority in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia. He also fears that the reflectors, for example, could become detached from the posts in a collision and pose a threat to drivers.

So-called green bridges at some wildlife crossings are intended to make it easier for animals to safely cross major roads. Another seemingly effective measure: New systems that use infrared cameras to monitor the roadside and activate flashing road signs when an animal is approaching the asphalt. Measures like these, however, are far too costly to be installed on a large scale.

Although some carmakers have begun installing new safety packages in their vehicles, few drivers will be able to afford them. Volvo and BMW have designed their cars to detect, at a distance of about 100 meters (328 feet), wildlife on a collision course with the vehicle. Some BMW models come with a special headlight that flashes at an approaching animal. If the driver doesn't brake, a warning tone sounds. The "animal recognition" option costs about €2,000.

Researchers Dig In

Two major research projects are currently underway to determine whether the most common prevention methods are effective. Falko Brieger and his fellow Freiburg forest managers are testing wildlife warning reflectors in the Baden-Württemberg region of Hegau and on the upper Rhine plain. The GPS collars are a critical part of the experiment, because, in the past, experts merely compared the numbers of wildlife accidents before and after a measure's implementation. Now, for the first time, they are studying the actual animals to determine whether they hesitate before stepping onto roads.

The researchers spent a year observing the collared deer before the luminous blue disks were installed. "We want to see whether the animals' crossing behavior changes as a result of the reflectors, so that wildlife accidents can be reduced," Brieger explains. The project will continue until 2014.

Christian Trothe of the Institute of Wildlife Biology in Göttingen, in central Germany, is studying scent fences and reflectors on 25 test routes in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein. The project partners include the German Automobile Association (ADAC) and the German Hunters' Association (DJV).

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