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Drive as if lives depend on it

On nature

POSTED: August 9, 2008 5:00 a.m.
On the road from Thomasville to Tallahassee, a car ahead of ours hit a three-foot alligator. We were in a knot of traffic, traveling fast and because we were in the outer lane, we luckily missed the gator. We turned around quickly and went back.
I jumped from the truck and, running toward the reptile, I saw two more cars hit it. Each time it bounced.
When I got to the alligator, it was still alive.
A truck stopped in the road, blocking more traffic from the gator, and probably from me, a protective but dangerous move.
I picked the alligator up and delivered it to the roadside. The truck driver agreed to take it to a vet, and he left with it, but the animal's prospects looked grim.
On another road near Fargo, Ga., an alligator 10-12 feet long, a cherished, ancient jewel of the swamp, had been recently hit, probably by an 18-wheeler. Those trucks can't easily swerve. The damage was catastrophic. The gator's huge skull was crushed, the soft meat of its ridged tail stripped away.
Near Alma this week, my husband witnessed two fawns killed on the road.
Each year in Georgia thousands of animals, large and small, are killed on roadways.
In a study that lasted four and a half years, on a 2.9-mile section of highway crossing Paynes Prairie, a state preserve in Alachua County, Fla., 13,000 snakes were counted dead from highway collisions. That's not tallying the hundreds of wildlife mortalities.
On a single day -- Feb. 22, 2000 -- 90 roadkilled turtles were collected on a one-third-mile section of U.S. Highway 27 that bisects Lake Jackson in Leon County, Fla.
Animals may wander upon roadways in a search for habitat, food or mates. Sometimes they are attracted to roadsides by food thrown from car windows. The best way to avoid road carnage is to slow down, pay attention, and avoid distractions like cell phones. Food or litter should never be thrown out. Migration corridors, or sections of road where animals are frequently hit, should be marked with signs, and in some cases, underpasses and fencing should be built.
On another road, this one passed my uncle's house, a harmless black water snake is maimed by a vehicle. When we come upon it, the snake is still trying to move, to get away, its guts bulging from a rip in its belly.
I did not have the courage to kill it. I gathered it and took it to the edge of a nearby pond, to a wet ledge within inches of the dark water, and left it there.
I didn't leave it without apology, without sorrow, without a prayer for its quick death. I didn't leave without the beautiful snake -- though earless and deaf to my words -- hearing my regrets.

Ray is a naturalist, activist, and environmental author who wrote "Pinhook: Finding Wholeness in a Fragmented Land."
 

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