Animals and us on country roads


Photo by Holly Edwards-Smith

10 month old Joeys in Ann's care in Chittering

Holly Edwards-Smith, Reporter

Getting your license is one of the most exciting times in your young life. Having the freedom to travel where you want and not have to rely on others or work around public transport is liberating.

We are taught so much about the road in this time: How to merge, who has right of way and things we should not do while in front of the wheel. Yet, there is so much many of us aren’t taught.

In 2016 the population of Western Australia sat at 2.567 million. 77% of those people live in the metropolitan area. Yet, that 77% are not bound by the city limits and we journey to visit the beautiful towns WA has to offer.

To get to Denmark or Jurien Bay you have to take long winding country roads, which are vastly different to  residential streets. The speed limit is higher. The bitumen is not always maintained. There are often less cars than you would find on a freeway, but quite frequently there are massive trucks and camper-vans towing boats. These are new and unpredictable dangers.

Country roads are often surrounded by bush. Full of thousands of animals that cross those long winding roads every day. What many of us aren’t taught in school or in our driving lessons is what to do if we hit one.

It may not be a thought many of us welcome, but it happens. Cars and animals collide, and our roadsides are littered with dead or injured wallabies, kangaroos, snakes, lizards and birds. What should we do if we see an animal on the road, or worse what should we do if we don’t until its too late?

Whether it lives or dies there are steps you should take to ensure the safety of the animal, yourself and other drivers. These pointers were written in collaboration with Ann Graham, the Chair of Chittering Wildlife Carers Inc.

What to do if you see an animal ahead of you on the road:

  • Don’t panic. It seems obvious and one of those ‘easier said than done’ statements, but it is important you stay focused.
  • DO NOT SWERVE – This one is important. It is your instinct to turn away from the animal but especially on country roads you should not. There could be other cars coming at high speeds or animals and trees on the road side. “Your safety is the most important thing,” Ann said, and swerving can be the most dangerous choice. If you do have the time to observe your surroundings, Ann added “then you can merge onto the other side of the road and quickly overtake”. But you must make sure you can clearly see the road in front for incoming traffic.
  • Slow down. The best and safest option is to begin to slow down as soon as you can. But try not to slam on the brakes.
  • Beep your horn. Scaring the animal is another good tactic to try and get them off the road in front of you.
  • Once you are travelling at a lower speed you could slowly drift towards the edge of the road in order to persuade the animal to cross.
  • If it becomes unavoidable you will have to hit the creature. According to Ann, kangaroos are one of the most common she sees injured by cars. Kangaroos are most active from dusk through dawn, when it’s harder to see. It’s sad to think about and no one wants to hurt or kill anything, but in this case it might be the safest option.

Ann told NewsVineWA that in many circumstances, because it can be hard to see, many don’t even know there is an animal there until they have hit them. If you do hit an animal, here are some more tips:

  • Pull over. Ensure it is safe. If you stop your car in the road it leaves both you and the animal vulnerable for another collision. The side of the road is usually best. If you cannot pull over then keep driving until it is safe to do so, and do a U-turn back to the site.
  • If you do not feel comfortable doing any of the things below call the Wildcare Hotline on 9474 9055. They will give you the number of the nearest shire’s ranger station (weekdays) or local wildlife carer who can come and help with the situation.
  • Keep watch for incoming cars and IF you are certain the animal is dead, move it off the road.
  • Check your car too. If you have hit a kangaroo or a large animal you may have caused damage to your car and that should be assessed as soon as possible.

Being the most common hit, Ann explained the specific procedure to follow if you collide with a kangaroo on the road.

If you are not sure that the animal is dead be careful, as Ann said, an injured kangaroo can get “very angry and very dangerous with it’s huge front claws and powerful back legs.”

But if you are sure that it is dead, you should roll it over and determine if it is male or female. Females have a distinct pouch on their stomach. Easily determined. If it is male and you believe it is dead, you can go on your way. You do not have to report the incident to the local council or police.

However, if the roo is female you should check the pouch for a joey. There are a few scenarios which can arise if there is a joey in her pouch. Newborn joeys are tiny and when they are very very small (up to about 100g or the size of your hand), Ann says they have little chance of survival and “you can leave the joey to pass with mum”.

Joeys however, are pink for a few months. If the joey is pink but larger than “around 100g” you can try and release it from the mother. They are usually latched to the teat and have quite a strong hold. You don’t want to force them off as it “may damage the joey’s mouth”. If the joey is not easily detached and you haven’t already called the Wildcare Hotline, make the call. The only other option is to cut around the mother’s teat so as not to injure the joey.

Below is a picture of two month old joey. Notice its eyes are still closed and its ears are flat against its head.

2 month old joey saved from a road incident

With a rescue joey like this the best thing to do is to put them on your chest inside your shirt. Skin to skin contact is the best heat source as without fur the joey cannot regulate temperature. Joeys with fur should be wrapped in a shirt or blanket and taken to the nearest ranger, a wildlife carer or vet near by. All joeys taken should have their heads covered to keep them in the dark, as it best resembles the pouch and keeps them calmest. Be careful still, as Ann told NewsVineWA that a joey “can still give a serious kick and they may chatter and swear at you”. Most vets will provide free care for injured native animals but to avoid large costs ensure you enquire with the vet before going if you can.

Ann explained that for mature wild kangaroos who are seriously injured, with hips or legs broken, that “there is not much you can do”. If the roo is still alive you need to call the local ranger for that shire. Rangers cannot go outside their shire boundaries with their weapons, so it’s important you call the correct place. If not you can again call the Wildlife Hotline who will give you the details of an official who can help you the quickest.

If you hit another animal here is what Ann suggests, on top of calling the Wildcare Hotline:

  • Birds: The Tawny Frog Mouth usually suffers from concussions and can be released after a few days in care. Broken wings are harder and may take longer or the bird may need to be put down by a carer or ranger. Transport wrapped in a shirt or blanket and in a box.
  • Turtles: If the shell is cracked it can often be fixed with glue. The shell shouldn’t be poking or cutting the animal. Use a box for transport.
  • Reptiles: Chittering Wildlife Carers get a lot of bob tails. If the reptile is alive transport in a box if you have one.
  • Snakes: Ann does not usually get snakes brought to her, she advised to be very careful as an injured snake will “flail around” and can be very aggressive or poisonous. Be very careful in this situation, best option is to call the hotline rather than try to transport the animal yourself.

The most important thing if you see an animal is to put your safety and the safety of those around you first and only do what you feel comfortable with. While driving at dusk, dawn and during the night, Ann suggests driving slower than the limit to improve your chance of stopping with the lowered visibility.

Photo by Holly Edwards-Smith
Slow Down Dusk to Dawn

Chittering Wildlife Cares Inc is community funded, if you want to support Ann and her carers who help rehabilitate inured animals and their babies click this link. 

For more information on what to do and the hotline click here.