One of the most commonly-asked questions wildlife rehabilitators get from the general public is the following: by rehabilitating wild animals, aren’t we interfering with nature, and shouldn’t we simply let nature take its course? If rehabilitators were simply rescuing animals that were down from storms, or other natural occurrences, that statement would ring true. However, the reality is that about 90% of the wildlife animals that are injured or orphaned are needing assistance due to human impacts (habitat loss; poisoning; attacks by domestic dogs or cats; gunshot). However, the most common reason for wildlife animals needing help is that they have been struck by a vehicle. As our county and surrounding areas continue to grow, this is a problem that will no doubt unfortunately get worse. Animal/vehicle accidents are not only dangerous (if not fatal) for the animal, but they cause millions of dollars of damage to vehicles every year. There are some important things to bear in mind to help avoid, as much as possible, hitting wildlife animals.
It is helpful to be at least somewhat familiar with what animals are most common in our area and a little about their normal behavior. In our part of Texas, we don’t have too many wildlife animals that are active during daylight hours, so that minimizes somewhat the risk of hitting anything during the day. However, birds of prey such as hawks and falcons, as well as songbirds, are active during the day. With raptors, they tend to be focused on prey they are chasing rather than where they are going, so they are more apt to be hit while they are hunting. Conversely, owls will be hunting after dark. It is difficult to be on the lookout for flying birds while you are driving, of course. Be more alert if you are driving on tree-lined roads (birds of prey may be chasing prey that is out in the open, i.e. along roadways). Roughly 85-90% of the birds of prey we care for at Friends of Texas Wildlife have been struck by a vehicle, and of course birds are the most difficult to avoid because it is so difficult to see them coming. Squirrels are also active during the day, and they are another commonly hit animal, mainly due to their behavior. In a squirrel’s mind, the best way to avoid capture is to run erratically in order to confuse the predator. This strategy works fairly well if you are being pursued by a hawk or coyote. However, it is largely ineffective against cars…an alert driver might swerve to avoid hitting a squirrel, only to have said squirrel dart right back into the path of the car. Best thing to try to avoid hitting a squirrel is to brake, but not alter direction (because usually the squirrel WILL alter direction).
It never ceases to amaze us how many turtles and tortoises come in after being hit. If ever there was an animal that should be easy to avoid, it would be these. They are not generally known for darting out into traffic. We would hate to think that people might hit them intentionally. As reptiles, they have a very slow metabolism, and even with very grave, fatal injuries, death comes slowly to them. It is horrific…please help them out if you can. If it can be safely done, any turtle on the road should be relocated to the side of the road. Make note of which direction the turtle is headed, and then take them to the side of the road they were trying to get to. Especially in spring and early summer, turtles are on the move to breed and lay eggs. They know where they want to go, so don’t relocate them, just help them to cross the road.
Many of the mammals we have in our part of Texas are nocturnal. We commonly see raccoons, opossums, skunks, and armadillos coming in as victims of being struck. Most of these animals are relatively slow moving, and they are not too likely to suddenly dart out in front of a car. Where they tend to get into trouble is on poorly-lit roads, or roads with curves where they cannot be easily seen. Raccoons have very good eyesight and hearing and will generally try to run to avoid getting hit. Skunks, opossums, and armadillos all have fairly poor eyesight. By the time they can SEE a car, it’s often too late for them to run. A skunk’s defense, as we all know, is to turn around to spray anything they deem threatening (rather than run), so that is clearly not helpful to avoid being struck. Opossums are timid and slow so that, coupled with their poor eyesight, just leaves them almost defenseless against cars. They also have a very thin skull as compared to other animals, so if they do get hit, they suffer more severe head trauma. Then there are armadillos…when they get scared, their reaction is to jump straight up in the air, about three feet. Although this may work to frighten off other predators, again it is not a good strategy against a car or truck. By the time they see a car, and react by jumping, it is almost inevitable that they will be hit. All these animals are common in suburban as well as rural areas, so please be aware of their normal behavior and slow down a little at night, especially on very dark roads or roads with curves. Given the chance, they will move along and out of your way.
The most costly and dangerous vehicle/animal accidents involve deer. There are several things to keep in mind to avoid having a collision with a deer. Most important is to be extra alert during the times deer are most active, which is from sunset to midnight and during the hours shortly before and after dawn. Remember that deer seldom run alone, so if you see one, there are probably others nearby or behind the one you see. Obviously use extra caution if you see any deer crossing signs. Use your high-beam headlights on darker roads (if there are no oncoming cars). The higher beam will better illuminate the eyes of any deer nearby. If there is a deer in the roadway, brake firmly but do not swerve and stay in your lane. Many accidents occur when drivers swerve and either hit another vehicle or lose control of their own vehicle. Once you stop, blow your horn to frighten the deer off the road.
The best way to avoid collisions with wildlife is to simply be aware and alert to your surroundings. Distracted driving is dangerous on many levels, so try to pay attention and slow down when conditions warrant it. Not only will that help to keep wildlife safer, but it will keep you and your loved ones safer too!
During this festive time of year, we want to send our best wishes to everyone for a wonderful holiday and a happy and healthy new year. Please remember that Friends of Texas Wildlife is wholly dependent on fundraising and donations to support the thousands of animals we rehabilitate every year. We truly cannot do what we do without the support of the community we serve. Donations can be made at www.ftwl.org (via Paypal or credit card), or mailed to our physical address at 29615 Highland Boulevard, Magnolia, TX 77354.
To learn more about what we do and view pictures of many of the animals we assist, please visit our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/SavingTexasWildlife. Our educational visitor’s center is open the second Saturday of each month from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., located at 29816 Dobbin Hufsmith Road, Magnolia, Texas, so the next open house date will be Saturday, December 14. Come on out and visit us, learn a little more about local wildlife, do some fun activities and a craft, and meet some of our non-releasable wildlife educational animals. We also host birthday parties, camps, and educational presentations. For more information about events, birthday parties, camps, or educational presentations for scouts, schools, or other groups, please visit our website or email firstname.lastname@example.org. There are many other ways you can help support our efforts, too (such as Kroger Community Rewards, Amazon Smile, etc.). Details can be found at www.ftwl.org, and then click on “How to Help”.
Executive Director - Friends of Texas Wildlife