October 12th 2021 was a bad day to be a reptile at the Ojibway Prairie in Windsor, Ontario. In a single day, a record 119 snakes were found dead on surrounding roads – the highest ever recorded since monitoring began in 2010. This beats the previous single-day record (set in 2016) by 28!

Reptile mortality is known to peak locally in early October but “This level of mortality is just shocking”, says Jonathan Choquette, the Lead Biologist coordinating the monitoring project. All told, during the 9 week survey period from September to October, Choquette’s team of reptile recovery technicians tallied 827 dead animals, including 490 dead reptiles; almost 100 of the dead snakes and turtles were Species at Risk.

Sadly, 2021 was a record-setting year.

A Wildlife Preservation Canada field technician surveys by bicycle for roadkilled animals along Matchette Road, near the Windsor Nature Reserve in Ontario.

Road mortality is the greatest threat to many Canadian reptile species, and the numbers observed in 2021 show that the problem at Ojibway Prairie remains unsolved. Without action populations of rare wildlife will continue to decline. The Windsor region is home to numerous Canadian species at risk of extinction, including the Butler’s gartersnake, eastern foxsnake, and Blanding’s turtle. Conservation biologists recently witnessed the complete collapse of the local massasauga rattlesnake population, and now face a tremendous uphill battle in its recovery.

How much longer can the other endangered species sustain the annual road mortality death toll before their populations also collapse? What good is a new national urban park if the animals it is being designed to protect have all but disappeared prior to its establishment?

An endangered Butler’s gartersnake (Thamnophis butleri) found during a survey of one of Wildlife Preservation Canada’s barrier fences being tested at Ojibway Prairie Provincial Park, ON. The fence saved this individual from being killed on the busy roadway.

Environmental leaders in the Windsor region have been advocating for road mortality solutions for years, but local governments have been slow to react. Some requests have been denied outright: a permanent road closure was requested in 2017 along Matchette Rd., and temporary road closures were requested in 2019 along Matchette and Malden roads. Other requests, although not denied, are being reviewed at a snail’s pace: two under-road ecopassages on Matchette and Malden roads have been under consideration since late 2019 (even though WPC completed both a mortality hotspot analysis and a connectivity analysis, purchased the barrier fencing, and found a partner to fund the tunnels). Also, a request to implement traffic calming initiatives on Matchette Road has been under study since early 2020. In a city and town jointly responsible for over 1,300 km of roads, a small investment along a mere 5km section to save hundreds of animals per year shouldn’t be so difficult.

But what about the multi-million dollar project being proposed for Ojibway Parkway, you ask? The proposed massive ecopassage is commendable in its scope and vision, and its main purpose is to re-establish an ecological link across Ojibway Parkway (a highway barrier to wildlife movement). However, “WPC has never conducted road mortality surveys on Ojibway Parkway, and so we just don’t have any data to suggest that there is a road mortality problem [there]…”, says Choquette. That project is not about reducing road mortality on Malden and Matchette roads. Although it is important to the overall health of the Ojibway Prairie Complex, it remains an entirely separate issue.

The question remains – what can be done about roadkill around Ojibway Prairie Provincial Park? As a citizen, you can easily avoid commuting along Matchette and Malden roads, and use Ojibway Parkway or Hwy 3 instead. More importantly, though, reach out to your local government and demand action. Let your representatives know that they can do more to protect Ojibway Prairie’s endangered species from road mortality!

Jonathan Choquette

Lead Biologist – Ojibway Prairie Reptile Recovery Program

Jonathan manages the recovery program for the Ojibway population of the massasauga rattlesnake in Southern Ontario. Jonathan’s research interests lie in the field of urban herpetology, having studied both biology and landscape architecture at the University of Guelph. Jonathan has authored or co-authored numerous reports and publications about the conservation of Canadian reptiles and amphibians in urban environments.