Last year 90 owls of at least five species were killed along the N1N4 toll highway in the Pretoria North area, and a research project is now underway to look at how many owls are killed along the road, and where the deaths are located. The project is a joint initiative between the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) Birds of Prey Working Group and the Bakwena Platinum Corridor Concessionaire (Pty) Ltd. Bakwena noticed high owl mortalities along the road, and alerted the EWT.
For the next year the Bakwena Owl Project will see the company contracted to maintain the N1N4 collecting daily statistics on owl deaths. These will be analysed at the end of the year as part of a formal research project, which also hopes to find out the factors that affect owl mortalities. In other parts of the country, grain spillage has been named as the main cause of owl deaths on the roads.
Small rodents feasting on the fallen grain attract owls, which are then killed by passing vehicles. This does not appear to be the case in the Bakwena study area, and preliminary findings show that there seem to be more owl mortalities when there are open areas beside the road. The main species being found dead on the road are barn owls and marsh owls, but spotted eagle owls, African grass owls and southern white-faced Scops owls have also been recorded.
The EWT commented, "It is hoped that through this partnership realistic solutions will be found to the problems facing owls living and hunting alongside major roads." They encourage all road users to help reduce owl deaths by driving responsibly within the speed limit, slowing down and hooting at birds that are blinded by headlights and avoiding littering on the roads.
They ask members of the public to report any owl deaths or injuries by calling the SA Eagle National Raptor Helpline on 011 646 4629.