Roadkill crisis in Jammu Kashmir: Wildlife deaths soar on highways
Jammu and Kashmir’s natural beauty and rich biodiversity draw visitors from far and wide, but the union territory is now grappling with a disturbing trend, the rising number of wildlife deaths caused by road accidents.
Jammu-Udhampur Road passes through two wildlife sanctuaries Ramnagar Wildlife Sanctuary and Nandini Wildlife Sanctuary, the road from Surinsar to Mansar passes Surinsar-Mansar Wildlife Sanctuary and Mughal Road passes Hirpora Wildlife Sanctuary.
Road construction is a vital human activity that often intersects with important wildlife habitats, allowing animals to move freely across landscapes in search of food, water, mates, and shelter. However, the unintended consequences of the roads are becoming more and more apparent in Jammu and Kashmir.
It is when this wild fauna (animals) is run over by fast vehicles, insects (moths, butterflies, scorpions, etc.); reptiles that crawl like snakes, monitor lizards; frogs and toads; birds mostly blue rock doves, mynas; Mammals like monkeys, civets, neelgai, sambar, jackals, hares and to some extent leopards have been killed in these road accidents in Jammu and Kashmir. Public feeding of monkeys along national highways results in damage or even death from vehicle collisions.
National Highway 244: a death trap for wildlife
The team of researchers performed roadkill surveys study on wild animal roadkill due to vehicular collision, for 33 months on the steep National Highway 244 in Jammu and Kashmir, which connects Batote (Jammu) to Kashmir Valley, as part of another study on wild animal roadkill caused by vehicle accident.
49 carcasses of 13 species of higher vertebrates were found on the road, on the shoulders, along the borders, and on the slopes of valleys, according to research released in 2022. Seven of these were mammals, four were birds, and two were reptiles.
The six-month survey found 64 roadkill victims from 19 different vertebrate species. During this time, 10.6 kills on average per month were noted, mostly of red foxes and golden jackals. Following mammals (37.5%) were birds (24%), reptiles (21%) and amphibians (17%).
Road sections close to protected areas had much higher roadkill (59%) than those adjacent to non-protected areas, with the exception of amphibians and reptiles, according to the research.
The J&K Government Department of Wildlife Protection has installed signs along roads passing through wildlife areas (“you are passing through wildlife areas, drive slowly’), urging drivers to slow down and drive carefully.
The recommended speed limit in such areas is 20 km per hour and, in some cases, night traffic has been prohibited on roads passing through protected areas and national parks.
For example, night traffic has been banned on National Highway 766 as it passes through Bandipur National Park. Another potential solution is to install speed brakes every 100 meters on roads passing through protected areas and forests, which would prevent drivers from speeding and causing accidents.
New highway threatens local wildlife
Intesar Suhail, a wildlife warden in Shopain told Ground Report that a newly built section of a national highway in Qazigund, Jammu and Kashmir, poses a threat to local wildlife, particularly smaller animals like foxes and jackals. These animals depend on the surrounding paddy fields for food and shelter during the growing season in September and October.
He added ‘that ‘the newly built road creates a barrier they must cross to access these vital supplies, increasing the risk of injury or death. To avoid danger from daytime traffic, foxes and jackals are more likely to cross the road at night, when most of their kills occur. The bright headlights of passing cars also pose a threat, as they can blind these creatures and further increase the risk of accidents’.
He added, Road kills are common in tourist areas of Kashmir including Pahalgam, Sonamarg, and Gulmarg which pass through wildlife reserves.
Other causes include humans leaving trash and other food items by the side of the road, which attracts some animals. When these animals got killed they then attract other animals.
Wildlife fatalities on the rise
Aakib Hussain Paul, a wildlife biologist at the Central Division in Srinagar, has highlighted the significant increase in road fatalities in Jammu and Kashmir, with most occurring on national highways, roads leading to protected wildlife sanctuaries and routes with higher traffic volumes. This has resulted in the deaths of a variety of wildlife species, including black bears, langurs, mongooses, and even leopards.
He added that it is crucial to identify key animal corridors and crossing points in areas such as Gurez, Hirpora Wildlife Sanctuary, Gulmarg Wildlife Sanctuary, Achabal Wildlife Sanctuary and Aru Valley Wildlife Sanctuary. The implementation of measures such as animal-specific underpasses and overpasses can help mitigate the risks of traffic accidents.
Aakib Hussain Paul further added that feeding any animal on a road is against India’s wildlife conservation laws as it leads to more wildlife deaths on the roads.
He called for an immediate end to this practice, and for those caught feeding animals on the roads to be disciplined or penalized.
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