Animals are unable to judge the speed of an approaching vehicle and often take flight too late – with fatal consequences. And they do not know traffic rules. Therefore it is imperative that road users adhere to the rules in order to avoid injuring or even killing animals on the road. After nightfall animals are blinded by your car’s headlights and do not know what is hidden behind the brightness.
Every year there are numerous accidents in Namibia involving wild animals, cattle, horses and donkeys. Those collisions are usually fatal for the animals. Unfortunately, people also get hurt and the damage to vehicles is considerable.
The majority of the road accidents and collisions with animals could be avoided. As a general rule, drivers should slow down as soon as they see an animal next to or on the road because it is impossible to know whether the animal will flee in time. And always look out for tell-tale signs.
The number of birds killed on the road increases especially during summer, when numerous migratory birds arrive from the north. Yellow-billed Kites are particularly at risk: they feed on insects lying dead or injured on the road and then themselves become victims of vehicles driven at a high speed. When smaller animals such as hares, snakes, black-backed jackals and birds have been run over they often attract various birds of prey that feed on carrion. As a result they are also killed on the road.
On the B14, some 40 kilometres south of Grootfontein, a horse was fatally injured by a vehicle last August. The following day White-backed Vultures descended on the carcass lying at the roadside. Two of them were also killed by a vehicle speeding past.
In the eastern part of Bwabwata National Park, in the Kwando Core Protection Area, a speed limit of 80 km/h applies on the last 40 kilometre stretch to Kongola. Warning signs caution that drivers should particularly watch out for African wild dogs. Right there, just one kilometre from the Susuwe Gate of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, a spotted hyena was killed by a vehicle in the end of August. At the same time a porcupine became a road casualty in the middle of the park between Divundu and Kongola.
Since there is no fencing in communal areas, motorists always have to watch out for cattle, horses, donkeys and small livestock crossing the road. In the commercial farming area more attention needs to be paid to wild animals such as warthogs and kudus, which tend to cross the street unexpectedly.
In times of drought countless warthogs forage for food on the shoulder strip between the road and the fenced farmland. On the 30 kilometre section between Otjiwarongo and the turnoff to Okakarara a total of 108 (!) warthogs were counted on both sides of the B1 in July this year. Most warthogs have become accustomed to vehicles passing at high speed and don’t even respond to hooting. Collisions with these animals are a regular occurrence. Considerable numbers of animals like warthogs are also found next to the roads when fresh greenery appears after the first rains.
Animals like hares, nightjars and Cape Thick-knees in Etosha National Park are usually killed by vehicles after dark when employees are driving too fast. Ground squirrels are often run over by tourists during the day. If tourists feed squirrels despite the warnings to abstain from doing so, these animals run into the gravel road expecting to be fed again.
On the B8, dubbed the Caprivi Highway, through Bwabwata National Park, there have been collisions of vehicles, including trucks, with elephants and Cape buffaloes. These accidents were always fatal for the animals and the vehicle occupants sustained injuries.
Some drivers, however, deliberately knock down animals. It has been observed how snakes were intentionally run over and how farmers do not slow down when a jackal is on the road. Such behaviour is an offence and perpetrators will be prosecuted.
How to avoid collisions with animals
- Obey the traffic signs warning of various animals (antelope, elephants, warthogs, wild dogs, brown hyenas).
- Adhere to speed limits, especially in parks.
- Immediately slow down when animals are on or next to the road.
- If dense vegetation on the side of the road is obstructing your view, drive slowly so that you can brake in time when an animal suddenly appears.
- If an animal crosses the road, e.g. a kudu, be prepared for other animals to follow.
- Look out for glowing eyes at night; if you spot any, slow down and dip the lights so that the animal does not get scared by its own shadow and runs into the road.
- Be patient when cattle or small livestock crosses the road.
- Do not expect an animal to behave in a certain way – always be prepared for the unexpected.
- Avoid driving after dark.
Author: Dirk Heinrich