Image Credit: Clément Bardot, CC BY-SA 4.0, Image Cropped
Ungulates and trains – factors influencing flight responses and detectability (2022) Bhardwaj et al., Journal of Environmental Management, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvman.2022.114992
Trains are one of the most climate-friendly ways to cross long-distances. Whether it’s people heading off on holiday or transporting food, clothing or other goods, it’s a (usually) cheap and low-emissions method of travel.
Yet train-animal collisions can be a massive problem for wildlife. Deer in Europe, bears in North America, and elephants in India are three of the many, many groups of species that suffer mortalities every year when they’re hit by trains. The collisions aren’t exactly friendly to the trains either, with many drivers suffering from trauma and repairs often need to be made (granted, not as bad as being run over).
Understanding more about animal behaviour in the face of a train can help us figure out how to prevent these collisions. Today’s authors enlisted the help of Swedish train drivers in an attempt to understand how animals behave when confronted with an oncoming mass of metal.
A recent photo showcasing the reflective reindeers in Finland has been making the rounds on the interweb. Although that specific photo turned out to be photoshopped (the reindeer looked particularly menacing/terrifying as its horns gave off a red glow similar to that of a neon sign outside the bar) the act of spraying reindeers with reflective paint is very much real.
Reindeer are an important part of animal husbandry in Finland – which means that these reindeer have monetary value and a loss of life is a loss of income for someone. These reindeer are also free roaming (unlike livestock in many countries which are kept in fenced pasture) which means that they are more likely to potentially run into hazards. Cars – more specifically collisions with cars – account for around 4,000 reindeer deaths every year. In 2014 the Finnish Reindeer Herders Association started experimenting with ways to make reindeer more visible to motorists – especially in the darker winter months.
Turns out the antlers are a pretty handy place to spray said reflective tape since it provides 360º visibility to motorists (as opposed to painting only the sides of the reindeer). And although the paint might not give off a creepy red aura reminiscent of demonic Rudolph its still pretty cool and will probably catch your attention while driving.
Tanya Strydom is a PhD student at the Université de Montréal, mostly focusing on how we can use machine learning and artificial intelligence in ecology. Current research interests include (but are not limited to) predicting ecological networks, the role species traits and scale in ecological networks, general computer (and maths) geekiness, and a (seemingly) ever growing list of side projects. Tweets (sometimes related to actual science) can be found @TanyaS_08.