It’s not nice but it is reality. The slaughter season is in its full glory on Nova Scotia highways.
On a recent day, one on-line poster reported five dead deer on a trip to Cape Breton, another a dead fawn beside a Lunenburg county highway. A turtle got car-mashed near Dartmouth Crossing. Hope for Wildlife received a bear cub and a coyote pup, both too seriously injured to survive.
Cars and trucks kill thousands of animals every year in our province. Raccoon and porcupine make up more than half the total, but the list also includes white-tailed deer, skunk, snowshoe hare, coyote, ground hog, bear, moose, and four kinds of turtle.
Roadways are the front line in a war of misunderstanding between wildlife and humans. The fact is, animals don’t understand roads. Two very basic urges, food and reproduction, drive them into highway danger. In turn, most humans have no idea why an animal suddenly appears in front of them.
At this time of year, the toll is greatest on females and their young. With deer, eight adult does are killed for every buck. Spring fawns are large enough to travel, so either to seek food or avoid predators, the mothers move them and highway encounters result.
Most large animal collisions occur at dawn or dusk and drivers can’t be faulted if a creature suddenly appears in front of them out of the twilight. Trying to avoid it at the last second has killed people before and probably will again. The only thing that can help is more reaction time, and that means a slower speed.
According to Hope for Wildlife director Hope Swinimer, lowering driving speeds at dawn and dusk would save a lot of wildlife and avoid shock to drivers.
“I’m as guilty as anybody,” Swinimer says. “I speed at times, but I’m really lucky. I hardly hit anything, but I know the few times I have, if I was going a little slower, I could have avoided it.”
Hope for Wildlife gets a lot of their guests from highway accidents, not as injured animals but as orphans. Swinimer says many deer, ducks, and raccoons arrive that way.
Statistics show that many more young animals than older ones are killed and the reasons for that vary greatly. Year old bears have been booted out by mom and are trying to find their own territory. Young deer and raccoons don’t know what to do if mom is run down and will hang around her body, making themselves targets.
Swinimer says that hitting wildlife at some time is probably unavoidable, but lowering driving speeds slightly at summer dawn and dusk can decrease the chance. She says reducing a car’s speed for certain times of day at this time of year is a wise measure “both for your own safety and the safety of the natural world.”
Ray MacLeod is a freelance outdoors writer. He lives in Waverley.