Wild Animals Take the Road Less Traveled (By Humans)
Ever wonder which creatures are lurking just out of sight as you hike through the woods? A recent study shines light on wild animals' relationship with hiking trails in Canada's national parks.
The critters studied — elk and wolves — both avoided tramping across trails with steady foot traffic. On routes where at least one person passed per hour, both species maintained a distance of 50 meters. The picture becomes more complex, however, in the habitat falling between 51 and 400 meters of the trails. It seems that elk are drawn to this space while wolves avoid it, suggesting that prey animals may use hiking trails as a refuge zone from predators. A second study of ranchland found a similar predator-prey pattern.
Understanding how animals react to human thoroughfares could be important to conservation efforts, especially in regard to plans for wildlife corridors, reserves, and highway overpasses. In Africa, forest elephants have been found to avoid roads associated with hunters. In Florida, on the other hand, shrinking habitat has created another problem: panther roadkill. A possible solution? Wildlife bridges. A design competition for one such overpass in Vail, Colorado, took place this year, but the structure is still only theoretical — Colorado's Department of Transportation doesn't have the money to build it.
Perhaps the luckiest endangered animal of late may be Hawaii's Millerbird. A group of 24 of them recently scored their own private island.
--Della Watson / iStock photo by David Bukach