Roadkill; Roads Kill

A puddle of blood covered the road and its metallic smell wafted up and down the underpass. Cars whizzed by, and the short fuzzy fur billowed in the gusts of wind. The fox’s corpse lay motionless, still warm as I touched it. I noticed a car was coming towards me, so I immediately grabbed and carried it off the road. The hot blood from a large wound in its head spilled on my hands and legs. It was undoubtedly dead, too severe a blow, too much blood lost; it hung limply in my hands, like a bag of gelatin — a rather unpleasant feeling — like a withered flower.

I placed the fox in tall grass a few meters away and began to look at it. It was light grey-ochre in colour, had a lovely bushy tail, a tiny black snout, if I’m not mistaken it (she, actually) was a vixen. She laid there, needlessly dead, her still, lifeless eyes staring blankly. There was something peaceful about this moment, but not in a good way, something very heavy hung beyond this feeling. What I witnessed was a(nother) pointless loss.

The loss wasn’t mine in any deeply personal sense, I am at this point quite desensitised, but somewhere out there in the darkness, away from the road in the nearby forest there was probably someone for whom it was. Foxes are monogamous i.e., they have one partner throughout their lives[1] — she was almost certainly the girlfriend of some poor other fox who’ll now wait for her in vain. The only fortunate thing was that her potential children were already grown, judging by the time of year. Of course this doesn’t change that many mother vixens get killed on the road during the late winter/early spring season, and their children are left with one parent only, not a rosy situation for any of them.

Had I not picked her up, she’d have stayed on the road, get run over over and over again by inattentive drivers until nothing but a grotesque pancake of fur and rotting flesh remained. In the grass she’ll at least feed some flies, ants, perhaps some crows, fungi and the flora, returning her nutrients to the struggling wilderness at the city’s periphery, and not attract more animals to the road. I could’ve taken her home and ate her myself, but I didn’t as I didn’t live alone at the time.

People have a really strange attitude towards eating roadkill. The less unreasonable would say that such an act’d be disrespectful to the fox, and I should either leave her be or bury her. The more unreasonable folks’d claim I’m descending to some “lower level” by eating game killed on the road, insisting that eating roadkill’s indecent, that it is appropriate for a human to go to the store, and not just pay large amounts of money for a small amount of inferior quality meat, but also to support the cruel and environmentally disastrous meat industry on top of that — of course, nobody’s ever said this to me so directly, but the meaning behind their words has always been exactly this. These latter ideas are based on nothing but civilised hubris and deep irrationality.

As for the whole “being disrespectful” thing, I think we just have a severely warped perception of what respectful means. My thinking is that there’s nothing better than to be of good use to life in death. This is what everything is built upon, everything wild at least, the cycle of life and death; the soil from which trees grow is a mixture of organic and inorganic matter, the former of the two once being something living that took from the soil or from some other being who took from the soil. The Bible really hit the nail on the head with that famous “for dust you are, and to dust you shall return” verse (Genesis 3:19), everything is thoroughly recycled by living beings — some of the molecules comprising me might have comprised the first algae or a dinosaur or a saber-toothed cat. I second Diogenes’ (Diogenes of Sinope) wish to just be thrown outside the city after death[2], so wild creatures could feast on the remains. Unfortunately the law does not allow it, so if I were to die now I’d instead get cremated and hidden in a box somewhere like packaged cereal, so possessive idiots could visit my grave and put fake or dead flowers and those stupid plastic candles on it. It’s really unfortunate how civilised grave culture does its best to stop other organisms from benefiting from human carcasses.

We talk big about recycling as the climate crisis and the consequences of pollution worsen, but the thing is we can never truly recycle under civilisation. Recycling needs to have living beings partaking in it to do what it’s supposed to do: fuel life. If you hear the word “recycle,” don’t think of trash cans and paper bags, think of a forest or a meadow. When small organisms eat dead animals/plants/fungi and excrement, turning these things (and their bodies after death) into soil, and the trees use the soil to grow leafs and fruits that get eaten by animals who defecate and/or get eaten by other animals, who also defecate and get eaten or die somewhere, and the cycle repeats ad infinitum, that’s one thing. When a company extracts fossil fuels to make inconceivable amounts of toxic plastic, and some of that plastic is used to make crappy ‘recycled’ shoes that we won’t even be able to ‘recycle’ a second time, that’s a mockery of the word. But I digress.

Back to the fox; why did she die? Obviously because she was hit by a car… but that’s not the whole reason. Was it because some obnoxious douche was driving way too fast? No, this also happens in small suburban streets, I have already seen dozens of cats, hedgehogs, mice, rats, martens, badgers, ermines, frogs, toads, snakes, birds, hares, all of which ended up like our fox on all sorts of different roads. I’ve also seen plenty of animals killed by trains; they even make it into news articles from time to time, like one mother bear who kept attacking a train after it killed her children.

The statistics are absolutely grim. CBEE (Brazilian Center for Studies in Road Ecology) reports that 15 animals (and by that they mean vertebrates) are killed per second, amounting to staggering 475 million per year, mind you, in Brasil alone; these road incidents are apparently vastly more devastating to the local animal populations than both poaching, and deforestation.[3] A book by fellow radical anti-industrial writers Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith, and Max Wilbert, who I otherwise have some major disagreements with, claims that about 5 million vertebrates are killed each day on a global scale, which should amount to over 2 billion annually.[4] It’s not sunshine and rainbows on the human side either, as “[e]very year the lives of approximately 1.3 million people are cut short as a result of a road traffic crash,” while somewhere from 20 to 50 million suffer non-fatal (but often crippling) injuries the World Health Organisation says.[5]

Bzzzzzzz. As I was writing the previous paragraph, a fly flew into my room and sat on my keyboard looking very exhausted. It was a common green bottle fly, easily identifiable by its aesthetically pleasing blue-green body with a metallic shine. Right, insects exist too! The only reason I’m including this is because the timing couldn’t have been better. I caught the fly in a jar and defenstrated it into the night.

Larger animals are easy to spot, hard to ignore, but in terms of road fatalities vertebrates don’t even come close to the trillions of insects killed by motor vehicles each year. According to extrapolations of a survey done in Netherlands, by a Wageningen University lead consortium, 800 billion insects are killed by cars in six months there.[6] Let me throw in another gruesome fact: insect populations are measured by analysing the slurry of cadavers on car windows; Denmark, for example, has experienced an 80% decline in abundance in only 22 years![7] Journal of Insect Conservation published a study that demonstrates we’re potentially losing hundreds of billions of pollinators per summer in North America alone, that’s pollinators who 80 to 85 % of the world’s flowering plants depend on, by the way.[8] Even if the impact of vehicles on bugs and other invertebrates alone is not too severe, considering there are literally quintillions of them globally, note that not only are many species endangered, but that there are also other factors of human origin contributing to the severe dwindling of their numbers. These factors include pesticides, urbanisation, agriculture, habitat loss, pollution, climate change — most of these things are in some way enabled by the existence of motor vehicles and roads.

Some might attempt to argue that it’s just cars, not roads themselves that are harmful, and we just need to take more train rides. Such arguments aren’t just a different iteration of the “we can keep slavery, let’s just make it more friendly” thought pattern, but are historically uninformed. Even before cars horse-drawn carriages killed many animals, though obviously not as many as cars kill today, and even when cars were not very commonplace, in 1920’s, some people like the Californian naturalist Joseph Grinnell estimated that every 24 hours thousands of animals perished on American roads.[9]

Roads also kill through other means; think, how much land is turned over for road embankments, how many hills are excavated for gravel, how many animals die because roads turn their habitats into small islands and they have to cross them over and over again, how many trees and grasses are killed to build roads? Answer: far too many. Roads also enabled the spread of first empires in the (formerly) fertile crescent, and they continue to be the veins of today’s global civilisation, the most destructive and ecocidal force of animal origin in the entire world history. They brought plagues, they brought conquerors of wild lands and wild peoples — the first step of destroying a forest (through logging for example) is building roads on which its executioners arrive.

The fox is miles away now and I’ve showered thoroughly, but I still smell blood and death; it’s oozing from cars, from roads, from train tracks. Roads are cuts in the body of life, numbering in millions, and it is time for these open wounds to heal. The 1968 Paris protesters spray painted the slogan “sous les pavés, la plage” (roughly translated: “beneath the pavement, the beach.”) on walls, a reference to how they ripped cobblestones and threw them at cops, the slogan being a metaphor for tearing away the crust of antiquated culture (pavement), so they’d reach a new, better society (the beach).[10] I think this slogan should be taken more literally: the vehicular infrastructure should be destroyed, as the world without it is a better, more cheerful one. For me an ideal way of “hitting the road” is with a sledge hammer.

Notes

[1] Bradford, Alina. “Foxes: Facts and Pictures.” Live Science, 15 Sept. 2017, https://www.livescience.com/27168-foxes.html.

[2] Laertski, Diogen. Življenja in Misli Znamenitih Filozofov. Translated by Živa Borak et al., p. 367, Beletrina, 2015.

[3] Guimarães, Thiago. “A Principal Causa Da Morte De Animais Silvestres No Brasil.” BBC News Brasil, 2 Oct. 2015, https://www.bbc.com/portuguese/noticias/2015/10/150924_atropelamentos_fauna_tg.

[4] Jensen, Derrick, et al. Bright Green Lies: How the Environmental Movement Lost Its Way and What We Can Do About It, pp. 346–347, Monkfish Book Publishing, 2021.

[5] “Road Traffic Injuries.” World Health Organisation, 20 June 2022, https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/road-traffic-injuries.

[6] NatureToday.com. “Splashteller: Twee Insecten per Tien Kilometer Op Kentekenplaat.” Nature Today, 10 July 2011, https://www.naturetoday.com/intl/nl/nature-reports/message/?msg=14645.

[7] Møller, Anders Pape. “Parallel Declines in Abundance of Insects and Insectivorous Birds in Denmark Over 22 Years.” Ecology and Evolution, vol. 9, no. 11, May 2019, pp. 6581–87. https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.5236.

[8] Baxter-Gilbert, James H., et al. “Road Mortality Potentially Responsible for Billions of Pollinating Insect Deaths Annually.” Journal of Insect Conservation, vol. 19, no. 5, Oct. 2015, pp. 1029–35. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10841-015-9808-z.

[9] Stromberg, Joseph. “6 Things Scientists Have Learned From Studying Roadkill.” Vox, 23 Mar. 2015, https://www.vox.com/2015/3/23/8266571/roadkill-science.

[10] Andersen, Margaret. “Beneath the Pavement, the Beach: Paris in 1968.” Department of History, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, 12 June 2020, https://history.utk.edu/beneath-the-pavement-the-beach-paris-in-1968.

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