Motorists in the Abruzzo region of Italy may soon be greeted by the surreal sight of bears leisurely crossing roads on custom-built bridges designed to keep them safe.
The Marsican brown bear is perilously close to extinction, with only about 50 left in the wild, according to officials at the National Park of Abruzzo. The number is being further reduced by traffic accidents, with bears being hit as they try to cross the busy A24 road, which is close to the park. The latest victim, a four-year-old male, is believed to have been struck while seeking either a new territory or a mate.
Park officials have now been given permission to build the bears a private bridge above the main road, or a tunnel beneath it. Giuseppe Rossi, head of the 130,000-hectare park, told UK newspaper The Daily Telegraph that the bears "need space and peace". He plans to build up to 10 additional tunnels under the roads that run through the park, and is currently seeking funding.
It is not the first time that road crossings have been built specifically for animals. In Europe, bridges for deer and badgers have been in existence for more than half a century. In Kenya, an elephant underpass was built after roads that divided elephant populations caused the animals to stray in front of cars, presenting as much of a danger to those behind the wheel as to the elephants themselves.
And in Taiwan, a whole section of road has been known to close to allow migrating purple milkweed butterflies to cross safely from their southern home to their northern breeding grounds. Ultraviolet light is used to guide the butterflies across areas where cars are still permitted.
Other animal crossings include an "otter tunnel" in England and a "toad tunnel" in Wales.
Why not use these examples to prompt classroom discussion? You could look at general road safety, animal conservation and how and where different animals live. You might inspire one or two future engineers with a lesson on how bridges and tunnels are constructed. Ask students to consider ways in which we can help animals and learn to live harmoniously with them.
One animal that has received no help in crossing roads is the chicken, which, considering the oft-quoted joke, seems an oversight. Why not get children to devise their own method for a safe poultry passage?
- Do animals have the right to live in safety, as humans do? Is it important to help them?
- Apart from the dangers of crossing a busy road, what other threats might wild animals face?
- If you woke up tomorrow and no wild animals were left, how would you feel?
- Which extinct species would you like to bring back to life?