Speeding kills bears

If you have ever driven through Yosemite National Park, you’ve seen them: distinctive yellow signs with a silhouette of a bear and the admonition, “Speeding Kills Bears.” Although it doesn’t say so on the sign, each sign is placed where a bear has been killed by a car.

On our last trip, driving through Yosemite on our way home, we saw the truth of this first-hand: a black bear lying dead at the side of the road, his blood still red on the asphalt. He was young, no larger than a St. Bernard.  His muzzle was delicate, his ears soft. Like many of the black bears I’ve seen, he was not just black, but had an elegant sweep of blond across his shoulders, like a shawl.

Of course I don’t know if the driver who ran this young bear down was speeding. Sometimes animals dart in front of the car much too close for a driver to do anything without endangering herself or her passengers. I have run over chipmunks and squirrels this summer, never without trying not to. Sometimes there is nothing you can do.

But sometimes there is. This article describes a study wherein models of turtles and snakes were placed on the road and drivers’ reactions were noted. The road was rural, so it was safe to slow down, stop, swerve, etc. Most people ignored the fake animals. A few people pulled over, got out of the car, and moved the “animals” to safety. I remember my father doing this when I was very young: he pulled over, darted out into the road, and returned with an enormous snapping turtle, which he placed safely away from the road, on the side that it had been heading for.

Some people intentionally ran the “animals” over. The snakes were a particular target.

About 3% of people saved the animals, and about 3% killed them. That means that as many people were cruel as were kind. Let’s improve those numbers. When you can—when it’s safe—add yourself to that 3%. The life of one snake or one turtle or one bear doesn’t mean a lot in the grand scheme of things; but slowing down, or getting out and moving the animal (carefully, if it’s a snake or a snapping turtle!), won’t cost you that much.

And it will make a big difference to that turtle.

2 thoughts on “Speeding kills bears

  1. It hurts the soul to see those percentages… Intentionally driving something over when there’s no harm to you, to pull over and save another. I know MANY — ourselves included — who carry boxes and towels in our cars EXPRESSLY for this purpose. Turtles (*always carry in the direction they’re heading!*), snakes, ANYTHING. Even poisonous snakes — get a big stick! (Cottonmouths are in our area.) This is their land. Why KILL when you can help? Unbelievable.

  2. Cottonmouths, wow – I’m impressed! Great to hear that you’re doing so much good. I think if more people understood these animals – that the turtles are often crossing to lay their eggs; that the snakes use the warm asphalt to heat up their bodies; not to mention how baffling and terrifying an oncoming car would be to you if you were six inches high – the percentages would be different.

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