Roadkill – Help Stop the Carnage

Tasmanian devil joey - Photo: Barry Irons

This article appeared in the December issue of Tasmania Enjoy Magazine.  An online copy is available at http://www.tasmaniaenjoy.com.au/enquiry.php, pg 28-32

One animal every two minutes.  There is no way around it, Tasmania is the roadkill capital of the world.  However Greg Irons, owner of Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary, is finding ways to reduce the terrible toll – and he needs your help.

“The one negative thing that we hear from visitors to Tasmania,” says Greg, an affable 27 year-old wildlife crusader, “is that we have so much roadkill.”

The numbers are staggering.  At least 300 000 animals perish every year under the wheels of motorists in the island state.  Greg says that when you include things like frogs and lizards the number may be in excess of 1 million.

“The really tricky thing about roadkill,” says Greg, “is that it is actually the sign of a healthy ecosystem.  If you have lots of animals, you have lots of roadkill.  In Tasmania we have the almost unique position of having over-populations of some of our native species.  This high density is the reason we see so many brushtailed possums, pademelons and Bennetts wallabies on our roads.”

So the sheer amount of dead animals is actually a good thing?

“Not at all,” Greg says.  “The opposite in fact.  These animals are not dying humane deaths and they leave behind untold numbers of orphans which are protected in the pouch when their mother gets knocked down.  It’s a serious animal welfare issue.”

“Possibly the worst effect is that we lose more than 3 000 endangered Tasmanian devils on our roads every year.”

Devils are scavengers, says Greg, and feed on other animals that have been knocked down.  Routinely falling victim to the cars themselves.  “Roadkill affects devils more than any other species in Tasmania,” he says.  “Roadkill is a devastating issue and at Bonorong we have been working very hard to create a community solution to this community problem.”

Greg has just won the Pride of Australia Environment Award for his innovative wildlife rescue program that he runs from his wildlife sanctuary near Hobart, Tasmania.  The “FOC Wildlife Program” is a 24hr rescue and assistance service which provides aid to animals in need.

Greg inspecting an injured wedge-tailed eagle. Eagles scavenge on the road and are often hit by motorists. Only a few hundred breeding pairs remain.

“When we started this program 18 months ago,” he says, “Tasmania was the only state in Australia without a wildlife rescue service.  Now we have close to 500 volunteer rescuers on the ground.  The numbers speak for themselves.  We are receiving over 2000 calls per year asking for our help.

“The rescuers are amazing.  The passion that they bring to the programme is incredible.”  Greg talks about Matt Barwick, a Hobart university student, who spent the last week trying for the “perfect week” of seven rescues in seven days.  “You have to hand it to these guys, they give up their time to help out animals in need.  Amazing.”  Although, says Greg, he suspects there may be an element of study procrastination for the student rescuer.  “We are planning on doing a recruitment drive on campus,” he jokes.  “We’ll be able to raise an army!”

So how can visitors to Tasmania be involved in reducing the roadkill problem?

“The best thing that anyone can do is to slow down,” Greg says.  “If we drove at 80km/hr instead of 100km/hr at night then research has shown that roadkill in Tasmania would literally halve.  That’s 150 000 animals.  Not to mention it is safer for all of us.

“Of course sometimes the animals are unavoidable.  They just jump straight in front of you.  Roadkill is a reality of driving.  The great thing is that now there is somewhere to call for help 24 hours a day.  Bonorong’s phone number is a hotline that is always manned.”  He adds that if you call him at night and don’t receive an immediate response, then keep on ringing.  “I sleep with the phone next to my head every night but sometimes I need a couple of goes to wake up.”

“We are here to provide advice and co-ordinate rescues, but people can start the process before they even call us.  The most important thing is your safety.  If you are getting out of your car and onto the road, make sure it is safe to do so.  A lot of our animals in Australia carry their young in a pouch, so it is really important to check and see if the animal was carrying a joey.  Often the mother cannot be saved but the little one can.”

If there is a joey in the pouch there are some easy steps to maximise its chances of recovery, says Greg.  “I taught these little tricks to over 3000 primary school kids last year, so there is no need for anyone to feel like they can’t make a difference.”

GREG IRONS’ TIPS TO HELP AN ORPHANED JOEY

DON’T FEED IT anything (especially cows milk, they are lactose intolerant)

Keep it WARM and DARK like a pouch.  The best thing to do is to put the joey in a beanie, or another item of clothing.  It doesn’t want to be any warmer than the temperature inside your shirt and that is actually a great place to put it.

Stress is the biggest killer of these animals so keep it QUIET, don’t put the car radio on or talk too loudly

CALL BONORONG (03 62 68 11 84) any time of the day or night

According to Greg, motorists can also make a big contribution to the survival of the Tasmanian devil.  “One of the best pieces of advice that we can ever give to people was suggested to me by a six-year-old boy.  I was on a tour and talking about how devils get hit on the roads a lot.  This little fella piped up and said, “why don’t people put rubber gloves in their glove-box so that they can take the animals off the road when they hit them?”  Genius.”

“This is what I love.  If everyone just does a little bit we can make a real difference to a big problem.”