The Florida panther is an endangered species, due in large part to habitat loss and fragmentation. Many different projects have been spearheaded by wildlife lovers in Florida to help save this species from extinction, but one of the most effective has been the creation of wildlife crossings.
As humans encroach more natural areas, habitats are getting more and more fragmented: instead of having large tracts of land available for wildlife, now there are many little patches, each separated from the other by roads and other man-made barriers. This habitat fragmentation is thought to be one of the biggest threats to biodiversity today and addressing it is crucial for ensuring that future generations get to enjoy the rich diversity of plants and animals we’re used to.
This habitat fragmentation is a big problem for these panthers. See, many Florida panthers were killed trying to cross I-75 ““ the big cats need a large space to roam and it’s a lot harder to roam when your range has been split in two by one of the busiest highways in the United States. In response, groups built underpasses beneath the highway to give the panthers a safe passage. Now, cats can’t just be told what to do: fences had to be built along the highway helped funnel the big cats towards the underpasses.
But this system isn’t just used to help endangered species recover ““ these wildlife crossings can save human lives as well. In Wyoming, the deer living and moving near highway 789 have their own underpass. Scientists collected data on deer movement and human impacts for years before deciding where the best place was for installing an underpass and fences. One metric the scientists considered measured the number of accidents involving vehicles and deer. By shunting the deer into an underpass and away from vehicles, the wildlife crossing can prevent animal-related car accidents, which directly saves human lives.
And that’s the best thing about these wildlife crossings ““ they are a way to address safety concerns for both humans and wildlife, allowing everyone to have a safer trip. In the future, hopefully more of these wildlife crossings will be installed along busy roads, but for now, we can take heart in the success of the ones already in place.