How to avoid harming wildlife on the road

Wildlife on road sign

Patricia Maunder

Posted December 08, 2020

Planning a regional road trip? Here’s how to help reduce Victoria’s wildlife road toll.

During the long months of lockdown, Victoria’s wildlife enjoyed a relative holiday from encounters with vehicles on regional roads. But with the lifting of restrictions and the arrival of summer holidays, more traffic in the bush means more danger for both fauna and motorists. 

While animal collision claims to RACV Insurance were down 26 per cent in the year to 30 June, that followed a 24 per cent jump the previous year when 6575 animal collision claims were received. In 2019, 6200 injured animals were reported to Wildlife Victoria after collisions.

According to Wildlife Victoria, in most collisions the animal does not survive, or is so severely injured it must be euthanised.

The actual toll is likely much higher than the official figures suggest, as not all wild animals killed and injured on Victoria’s roads are reported. Alongside this animal suffering is the human cost: distress, injuries and vehicle damage.

Victoria University environmental scientist Dr Christine Connelly is trying to stop vehicles and wildlife crossing paths. She’s trialling a virtual fence, installed on a 3.6-kilometre stretch of Phillip Island road, where roadside headlight sensors trigger a low siren and strobing lights facing away from the road to deter animals.

Christine says the technology has been tested elsewhere, most notably in Tasmania where results suggested the virtual fence had reduced roadkill by 50 per cent. Her Phillip Island trial ups the ante on previous research with what she calls a “gold standard” in study design, including counting roadkill for eight months before the virtual fence’s activation. For the record, at the Phillip Island location the count was 210 animals, mostly wallabies and possums.

If the count during Christine’s Phillip Island trial is significantly lower than that figure, she hopes the results will underpin the widespread introduction of virtual fences.

Meanwhile, there are precautions motorists can take to help reduce Victoria’s wildlife road toll.

How can I avoid harming wildlife on the road?

Whenever you’re driving outside built-up areas it’s important to watch for wildlife warning signs, and scan both the road and roadsides, where water run-off encourages animals to graze. Never throw food scraps on the side of a road as this will also attract wildlife. 

Native fauna is especially active at dusk and dawn, as well as through the night, so be particularly alert and slow down when driving at these times. Or if you can, avoid driving between dusk and dawn altogether when outside urban areas. And remember to take extra care in other low-visibility situations, including wet or foggy weather.

If you do encounter an animal on the road, never try to swerve around it. Not only will this likely frighten the animal and cause it to behave erratically, you could also endanger yourself and other road users. 

“Swerving can put you in more danger as you can lose control of your vehicle and leave your lane. You could end up in oncoming traffic or crash into something on the side of the road,” says RACV’s senior safety policy adviser, Elvira Lazar.

Elvira says scanning the road ahead is the best way to give you enough time to slow down and steer around the animal in a controlled manner or even stop, if it’s safe. But she says if you can’t safely avoid the animal, you may have to hit it to avoid injuring yourself and others. “This can be quite stressful for everyone involved, so it’s important to follow the safety tips and do everything you can to avoid the animal altogether.”

How can I report and help injured wildlife?

If you hit an animal, park your vehicle off the road as safely as possible, turn on the hazard lights and check that you and your passengers are unharmed before attempting to help it.

If there’s a chance the injured or dead animal will create a hazard for other road users, remove it or call for help. If you’re on a toll road, contact the operator. For major roads call VicRoads, and on local roads contact the local council or VicRoads. 

Wildlife Victoria advises that birds can get entangled in a vehicle’s grille, and kangaroos and wallabies may hop away even with a broken leg. After assessing the animal’s condition from a safe distance, phone Wildlife Victoria’s emergency service on 03 8400 7300. Keep this number in your contacts.

Follow Wildlife Victoria’s instructions and wait for their rescuer, if possible, but also be prepared:

  • If it’s safe to do so, quietly approach the animal and try to keep it calm.

  • Wrap it in something cosy, such as a jacket or towel, and move the animal to safety if it’s on the road. Ideally wear gloves to avoid getting scratched.

  • If help isn’t on the way, perhaps because there’s no phone reception, avoid removing the animal from its territory. Stay with it while another person drives on for assistance. But if you’re out of options take the animal to the nearest vet.

Consider keeping a basic wildlife rescue kit handy, especially when driving outside urban areas. Useful items include gloves, a reflective vest, torch, blanket and a pillowcase (for smaller creatures), stored in a box that you can potentially put an injured animal into.

I think it’s dead – what should I do?

If possible and safe to do so, move the animal well off the road so scavengers such as wedge-tailed eagles don’t become secondary victims.

Gently check inside the pouch of marsupials such as kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, koalas and possums – there might be a joey, which can survive several days after its mother’s death.

Contact Wildlife Victoria so someone can look for nearby young or remove joeys from pouches. You may see roadkill spray-painted with an X – this is how wildlife rescuers let others know the pouch has been checked.

Don’t try to remove a baby from its pouch yourself. If help isn’t coming, head to a vet with the joey still in its pouch if possible.