Vehicles are extremely dangerous. Chances are you or someone you know has been in a serious accident. In fact, chances are you know someone who died in a serious accident. You can imagine the toll that our roads have on wildlife (and pets) around the country. That’s because wildlife doesn’t know to look both ways before crossing the street, something we ingrained into our childrens’ brains from a very early age. But there are other tolls you might not know about.
There are some stories that receive more attention than they’re worth. For example, one such story exaggerated car accidents Beverly Hills in which a driver lost control of his sports car and crashed into a Petco near the border with West Hollywood last year. The damage? A totaled car, and a dented building. Minor injuries for the driver. No one else was hurt — and no pets were killed. Most animals killed by traffic are wild, but not all.
According to one report, around 1.2 million dogs are killed in traffic each year. This number should be troublesome for any pet owner who allows their fur-babies to play outside without supervision (would you let your child do the same?). But it doesn’t hold a candle to the number of overall wildlife deaths caused by cars.
Estimates vary, but here are a few: Up to 27 million birds in Europe. In the United States, some “41 million squirrels, 26 million cats, 22 million rats, 19 million opossums, 15 million raccoons, 6 million dogs, and 350,000 deer” are killed every year. But as you’ll notice with two vastly different reports on dog deaths, estimates don’t tell the full story. But scientists don’t need numbers to measure the impact.
The building of our national interstate infrastructure was an economic boon for the United States, and one sorely needed at the time. But the environmental impact was devastating. Long ago, when the Native Americans were the only people living on the continent, billions of animals roamed about the land. Herds of wild buffalo. Millions of birds migrating in eyeshot all at once. Needless to say, the world has changed. But it wasn’t all due to overhunting.
Part of the reason was the interruption of typical predation practices. Our introduction of roads — and fast cars — has put gaps in between ecological habitats, and animals can no longer travel from place to place as they once did. For example, a predation cycle once looked something like this: tens of thousands of buffalo would roam the open countryside to graze, fertilizing the land as they went. They were pushed along by natural predators, who would follow for the bountiful food source. But even if wild buffalo still roamed the countryside, they would only be able to go so far before an interstate barrier prevented them from going any farther.
This hasn’t just resulted in a drastic reduction in the animal population. Without a significant number of animals to fertilize the world’s landscape, much of it is undergoing the process of desertification — which is another big problem as the world undergoes climate change.