5.4. Wildlife deterrents

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Last update: June 2023
RATIONALE. Deterrents to wildlife

Wildlife deterrents in general are intended to cause fear or discomfort to animals and thereby induce a flight response or at least increased alertness. Various acoustic, visual and olfactory signals can be deployed to achieve this. Available evidence to date shows greater effectiveness of acoustic deterrents that rely on natural sounds over artificial, visual or olfactory cues. The challenge is to develop signals that are readily perceived and understood by wildlife.

Visual deterrents that either reflect or emit light when car headlights shine on them, have been installed widely, despite a lack of evidence about effectiveness. Several reviews revealed that reflectors have little or no effect in reducing wildlife-vehicle collisions (D’Angelo & van der Ree, 2015; Brieger et al., 2016, 2017; Kämmerle et al., 2017; Benten et al., 2018a, b, 2019). These authors also stated that effectiveness previously reported is mainly due to inappropriate study design, leading to potentially unreliable conclusions. Other reasons for this ineffectiveness are e.g., that the animals are unable to perceive the light being reflected (D’Angelo & van der Ree, 2015; Benten et al., 2019; Coulson & Bender, 2019), that the light is insufficiently intense and masked by the already illuminated road surface or roadside vegetation (Seiler et al., 2017), that animals can run onto the road to escape and also that they quickly become habituated (Ujvári et al., 2004; D’Angelo et al., 2006; Coulson & Bender, 2019). One major concern about visual cues is the lack of animal response to the standard headlights of vehicles that illuminate the road ahead.

Innovative acoustic deterrents are showing more promising results, especially those that use sounds with natural meaning, such as alarm calls from local species or human voices (Biedenweg et al., 2011; Babińska-Werka et al., 2015; Seiler & Olson, 2017; Coulson & Bender, 2019; Berndt, 2021; Bhardwaj et al., 2022a and references therein), and those that sound only when an actual threat is present in the form of an approaching vehicle  (Babińska-Werka et al., 2015; Seiler & Olson, 2017; Lodnert, 2021). These features can improve the results also in the long-term by reducing or eliminating wildlife habituation, which is otherwise the main drawback of deterrents (Elmeros et al., 2011; Benten et al., 2018b).

Acoustic and visual stimuli may also be combined to produce a ‘virtual fence’ that are intended to deter animals from crossing roads or railways when vehicles approach at night. Evidence for the effectiveness of these combined approaches is still scarce and contradictory (Coulson & Bender, 2019; Englefield et al., 2019; Fox et al., 2019; Stannard et al., 2021) and more research is needed to determine their potential.

In general, studies on the sensory perception and flight behaviour of the target species  should be conducted prior to extensive deployment of mitigation strategies (D’Angelo et al., 2006). Also, more knowledge is needed about the potential disturbance of wildlife deterrents to adjacent habitats.  

Visual, acoustic, or olfactory devices are deployed to help prevent wildlife, often deer and wild boar, from crossing transport infrastructures or to increase their alertness to approaching vehicles. Development is very active in this field and many types of devices are available. However, so far, most methods have failed to provide convincing evidence of their effectiveness, while some (e.g., wildlife reflectors or vehicle-mounted whistles) are proven to be ineffective.

Some studies that show a reduction in the number of accidents are short-term and do not necessarily prove the effectiveness of such systems. Other reasons can also lead to a reduction in accidents, such as a decrease in animal population or a change in traffic volume.

Maintenance requirements are a determining factor as many of these devices require high maintenance and do not work if this is neglected (see Chapter 7 – Maintenance).

Wild animals, and particularly ungulates and large carnivore, may get used to these stimuli when they are recurrent and not associated with a perceived risk for the animal. This results in a loss of effectiveness over time. To reduce the risk of habituation, these prevention measures may be best deployed only during critical periods when most accidents occur or, preferably, only when vehicles approach.

Wildlife deterrents could also cause disturbance that may reduce the quality of adjacent habitats next to infrastructure.


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