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Wowed by wildlife crossings

One of Y2Y's interns shares his experience visiting the Bow Valley for the first time and his awe at the ways human live alongside large wildlife.

Wildlife crossing structures in the Bow Valley: Aiding ecological connectivity and fostering coexistence between wildlife and humans.

By Elvis Acheampong, Y2Y's 2018 conservation science intern

So far, the most memorable moment of my stay in Canada has been seeing a grizzly bear for the first time while driving on Highway 93 close to Radium Hot Springs.

I was particularly excited because there are no bears where I come from in west Africa. I had only seen them in movies and read about them in books while growing up in Ghana.

A grizzly crosses Hwy 93 | Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative
A grizzly crosses B.C.'s Highway 93 in June 2018. Photo: Catherine Pao

As an environmentalist who has lived and worked in very remote regions of west Africa, I am familiar with diverse wildlife and woodlands.

Therefore, the Bow Valley’s beautiful landscape and rich biodiversity is pretty interesting, but not something new to me.

What fascinates me the most are the myriad measures applied in this part of Canada to safeguard wildlife, as well as to facilitate coexistence between wild animals and humans — something not yet widespread in Africa.

In this area of Canada there are many wildlife crossing structures, including under- and over-passes, constructed at strategic locations along some major roads.

By helping animals to safely cross highways, these structures prevent roadkill and collisions, and also facilitate ecological connectivity between similar habitats.

This is important because it can be hard for wildlife to cross highways safely. They are at risk of being hit by vehicles, being injured or killed, or may be deterred from attempting to cross altogether. Crossing structures can help improve ‘gene flow’ and maintain healthy animal populations, both in Alberta’s Bow Valley and throughout the Yellowstone-to-Yukon region more generally (Clevenger and Waltho, 2005). 

This is especially critical for the survival of large carnivores, such as the grizzly I saw. These animals are required for stable ecosystems because the loss of top predators can negatively affect entire food webs (Staddon et al., 2010).

For example, fewer large predators can mean the number of medium-sized predators and herbivores rises (Ripple et al., 2014), which can in turn affect plant populations and other ecosystem interactions. 

Owing to the enormous benefits of these structures in protected areas, the crossings in Banff National Park, for example, serve as a model being replicated to complement efforts by conservationists, protected area managers, and citizens to reduce the negative impacts of highways on wildlife.

Although similar wildlife crossing structures can be found in northern Kenya that enable elephant and other wildlife connectivity across highways, such structures are not widespread in Ghana, and west Africa in general.

I am of the strong opinion that these wildlife bridges, in Kenya and Canada’s Bow Valley, are great models that can be studied and replicated in Ghana and other parts of west Africa to enhance conservation efforts.

Additionally, despite wildlife sensitization efforts in Ghana by the Ghana Wildlife Society, there is more to be done to make people friendlier to wildlife and support the course of conservation.

Elvis | Y2Y
Elvis hikes West Wind Pass in Kananaskis Country. Photo: Aerin Jacob

The day I saw the bear I was travelling with Y2Y staff. We pulled over, remained calm and enjoyed watching the huge creature feed on plants at the side of the highway for a few minutes before crossing majestically to the other side of the road. It was a beautiful sight to behold!  

Aside from the excitement of seeing a bear for the first time, my greatest takeaway was the fact that, although there are structures to facilitate easy crossing of roads by wildlife in the valley, there is still more room for improvements. The structures may not be enough or their positions may not be entirely accurate — and there are many places that lack crossing structures altogether. That bear could have been run down by a vehicle.

My six-week internship in the Bow Valley has been awesome. Working with Y2Y has provided me a great opportunity to learn from some of the best experts in the conservation landscape. I have benefited from great insights from scientists and non-scientists and had a firsthand experience with practical conservation in some of best places to study conservation science in the world.

Although I feel more equipped with the needed skills to help champion some of these ideas in Ghana, I intend taking more courses in the subject matter to hone the skills I acquired while interning at Y2Y.

This month Elvis returns to New Haven, Connecticut, to begin the second year of his Master of Environmental Science program at Yale University.

His internship funding is thanks to Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and Carpenter Sperry Fund.

  • Clevenger, A. P., and Waltho, N. (2005). Performance indices to identify attributes of highway crossing structures facilitating movement of large mammals. Biological Conservation, 121(3), 453-464. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2004.04.025
  • Ripple, W. J., Estes, J. A., Beschta, R. L., Wilmers, C. C., Ritchie, E. G., Hebblewhite, M., Berger, J., Elmhagen, B., Letnic, M., Nelson, M. P., Schmitz, O. J., Smith, D. W., Wallach, A. D., & Wirsing, A. J. (2014). Status and Ecological Effects of the World’s Largest Carnivores. Science, 343(6167). doi:10.1126/science.1241484
  • Staddon, P., Lindo, Z., Crittenden, P., Gilbert, F., & Gonzalez, A. (2010). Connectivity, non-random extinction and ecosystem function in experimental metacommunities (Vol. 13). doi.org/10.1111/j.1461-0248.2010.01450.x 

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