Thursday, August 14, 2003


Each morning I drive a winding 40-mile stretch of backwater highway to get to work. This strip of road is a regular Tornado Alley for small, defenseless animals, and most anything that gets too close is sucked in, chewed up, and then spat unceremoniously onto the gravel shoulder like gristle on the edge of a dinner plate. In the four months since I started the job, I have witnessed a morbid menagerie of mangled corpses littering its path. I’ve seen cats, dogs, squirrels, skunks, rabbits, chickens (and other assorted birds), moles, snakes, turtles, armadillos, countless deer and possum, and even an otter once near the river. I’d say better than half the vehicles on the road in this part of the country are pickup trucks — hell, I drive one myself — and perhaps this statistic has some bearing on the elevated death toll, with trucks being larger, less maneuverable at high speeds, and so forth. Maybe, maybe not; I don’t know.

When I was three or four years old, my father’s best friend was killed by swerving to miss a deer. He lived high in the Rocky Mountains, and the abrupt turn sent his car flying off the narrow road and down into the valley below. This tragedy resulted in my being raised to believe I should never, ever endanger others or myself by attempting to dodge an animal in the roadway. However, I am a big fluffy teddy bear, emotionally speaking, and fortunately for ‘others or myself,’ I haven’t had to test the fortitude of this parental directive yet. Even passing by the crumpled little body of a kitten chokes me up, much less actually being the one who’s done the crumpling. Hopefully, knock on wood, I’ll never have to find out how I’d handle it.

It seems there isn’t much that can be done to prevent these vehicular homicides. A significant amount of research has been conducted in the interest of reducing collision incidence, specifically with deer, which pose a greater risk to vehicles and their occupants. Fencing built along the edges of roadways is very effective, but also quite expensive and labor-intensive. Certain states, specifically Colorado and Alaska, have built underpasses for animals. These special tunnels extend beneath busy highways and provide the wildlife with a safer alternate route, but their construction is also very costly.

Thanks to the Israeli government, I have a better suggestion. Authorities in and around the Negev desert became concerned with the growing number of camel-related traffic incidents in their area. The Negev is home to hundreds of pickup trucks and more than 5000 camels that are used for transportation and commerce. In the effort of preventing further accidents, the Israeli government held a meeting between camel herders, Bedouin elders, and members of the Transport Ministry and the Nature Reserves Authority to determine a helpful solution.

What they decided was simple but extremely successful — they elected to affix phosphorescent strips to the camels. Now, in the event that a camel is blocking the path of an oncoming car or truck, it conveniently glows in the dark. The program was only initiated a month or two ago, but there hasn’t been a single reported camel accident in the Negev desert since.

Just picture it with me, if you will: thousands of tree-hugging, wildlife-loving volunteers hiking hand in hand through the woods, putting little glow stickers on every creature they can catch. Picture camping out in the weeks that follow, the trees alight with phosphorescence, each squirrel and toad become a lightning bug, twinkling new stars everywhere. Envision our highways free of carrion! Imagine all those tire treads clean as a whistle! I don’t think that’s so crazy. Regardless of how my congressman feels.

C’mon, folks — are you with me? Let’s start with our pets.

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