A Brazilian Highway Is Killing Its Giant Anteaters

Photo: Fernando Flores (Flickr)

Brazil’s BR-262 highway cuts across the country from east to west, connecting the border with Bolivia to the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a busy road, carrying all manner of industrial products towards the shore for shipment. That should be a good thing, and for the most part, it is– unless you’re an anteater.

The Giant Anteater, perhaps more famous as Salvador Dalí’s conspicuous Paris Metro companion, is particularly susceptible to getting hit by those big trucks. Slow because of the long claws on their front paws, the massive insectivores are sitting ducks as they attempt to cross major roads like BR-262. And the results have been catastrophic. Back in 2013, a husband and wife team of road ecologists found 124 anteater carcasses while looking for armadillos, massively increasing scrutiny of roads’ impact on the already endangered species.

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This week, the Atlantic’s Ben Goldfarb published a substantial piece going into great detail about the crisis facing the Giant Anteater and other species along BR-262, efforts to make the existing roadways safer for wildlife, and the challenges posed by President Jair Bolsonaro’s aggressive development policy towards Brazil’s rural interior.

Goldfarb recounts the history of the field of road ecology going back to the 1920s, and meets with a number of Brazilian ecologists tracking the impact of road traffic and infrastructure development on the populations of anteaters and other vulnerable species. The picture looks grim for some species, and the country’s fast-tracking of projects in the most biodiverse regions of the entire world is worrisome.

Still, the scientists interviewed do have some ideas for how to mitigate this problem. Wildlife crossings, either above or under the road, have proven effective in some regions of the world where roads have encroached on habitats. While making these crossings useful to animals is not straightforward, it is likely the best hope they’ve got. The current government remains deadset on development in the most sensitive regions of the Amazon, and that will require more and larger roads. The results will likely be catastrophic no matter what, but crossings for both people and wildlife could mitigate at least some of the impact.

Goldfarb’s excellent piece can be found here. For more reporting on roadkill in Brazil from the New York Times, check out this piece from last year as well. They’re well worth it.

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Max Finkel

Max Finkel is a Weekend Contributor at Jalopnik.