The carcasses of eight wild animals spread out on a tarp with the words: “What now? Do you see us?” stayed for hours in front of the headquarters of the Dnit (National Department of Transport Infrastructure) in Campo Grande, Mato Grosso do Sulon the 15th of May.
The animals’ bodies were taken as a form of protest for the safety of state highways, especially the stretch of BR-262, known as “the road of death” for the fauna of the Pantanal It’s from cerradowhich crosses these two biomes and is administered by Dnit.
“It came to be called that because the sight of dead animals on the track is unfortunately something common on this highway, which is very used. Everyone who goes to the Pantanal, leaving Campo Grande or other places in the state, needs to go through it “, says Gustavo Figueiroa, biologist at SOS Pantanal and one of the activists responsible for the protest.
BR-262 is one of the largest highways in Brazil — its length is more than 2,000 kilometers and connects Espírito Santo, Minas Gerais, São Paulo and Mato Grosso do Sul.
The stretch that goes from Campo Grande, the capital, to the city of Corumbá is 420 kilometers long and is used to transport different types of cargo, such as agricultural products, ores and fuel.
This part of BR-262 is considered by researchers and animal protection activists as a priority to receive mitigation measures to avoid deaths of animals and people.
“We don’t have data to prove that it is the deadliest highway in Brazil, since the surveys that are made public are generally collected by institutions and NGOs. But we know that many lives — animal and human — are lost there”, says Figueiroa.
In Mato Grosso do Sul, according to data from Federal Highway Policebetween 2018 and 2023, there were 372 collisions with animals involving fatal or injured human victims.
Average of 180 pedestrians per month
In 3 years of monitoring, carried out between 2017 and 2020, researchers from Icas (Institute for the Conservation of Wild Animals) recorded 6,650 dead animals, an average of 180 per month, on the BR-262 between Campo Grande and the Paraguay River bridge — a 339 km in length in the same direction as the city of Corumbá, but stopping about an hour’s drive earlier.
Of these, 316 were endangered species (anteater, tapir, Pantanal deer, peccary, maned wolf, bush dog, pampas cat, Moorish cat).
The researchers point out, however, that the number must be much higher than that.
“Many of the animals that die in collisions disappear, as the vehicles themselves can throw the carcasses back into the forest with the impact of the crash, some are taken by the rain, eaten by other animals or have their bodies run over several times, which prevents us from identifying the species”, explains Arnaud Desbiez, founder of Icas, zoologist and PhD in Biodiversity Management from the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, University of Kent, in United Kingdom.
More recent data, collected by Instituto Homem Pantaneiro between 2016 and 2023, indicate that 19 jaguars died from being run over on the BR-262 in the stretch of about 200 km between Miranda and Corumbá.
This year alone, according to the Environmental Military Police, three animals of the species were killed in the same stretch.
In general, collisions are not intentional. “From the moment the animal is on the track, for safety reasons, there is no way to avoid a collision. Braking or dodging the animal would be much more dangerous than colliding, especially for heavy vehicles”, points out the study by Icas .
The document shows that more than 80% of accidents with animals on the highway occur at night and that 40% of the registered animals were large enough to cause material damage to vehicles.
“Year after year, the BR-262 continues to pose a risk to animals and people — there have been no significant changes,” says Arnaud Desbiez.
Desbiez points out that the road contributes directly to reducing the number of animals that live in the cerrado and especially in the Pantanal, a biome present in most of the stretch. “It’s as if there was a sinkhole and the animals were the water. They are being pulled until the source dries up.”
“Our data show that the most affected animals are those that live close to the track. This is the case of the giant anteater: the deaths cause a reduction in the population growth rate of more than 50%.”
“In just one day driving on the BR-262, between Campo Grande and Miranda, I saw five dead giant anteaters. It is something very impressive”, adds Erica Naomi Saito, biologist and president of REET Brasil (Brazilian Network of Specialists in Transport Ecology ).
Desbiez points out that the diversity of species killed in collisions is surprising.
“In 20 years working in the Pantanal there are species that I have never been able to see alive, or that I saw only once like the bush dog. And then, finding them dead on the roads is a very sad shock.”
What road safety officials say
BBC News Brasil asked Dnit for more recent data on fatal accidents, as well as whether there is a plan to reduce deaths on the BR-262, but there was no response to questions. Instead, the municipality sent the following response:
“Dnit informs that for cases of fauna being run over on federal highways, the Department invests in Fauna Run over Environmental Programs, in which awareness, monitoring and mitigation measures are covered.”
“In the case of the BR-262/MS, speed reducers, traffic signs, conductive fences and fauna overpasses were installed. In this stretch, the highway passes through the Pantanal region of Mato Grosso do Sul, where the monitoring of cases of pedestrians of the fauna demonstrated the need for intervention by the public authorities, aiming at reducing the conflict between fauna and the vehicles that travel on the highway. and Anastácio-MS.”
The activists present at the protest told BBC News Brasil that Dnit has a mitigation plan in hand, but that they were taking too long to implement it.
At the time, Euro Nunes Varanis Júnior, state superintendent of the Dnit, justified that the aforementioned plan was not carried out due to lack of authorization from the Ibama (Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources).
“Last year we presented an accident mitigation plan from Aquidauana to Corumbá. It was made by the company Via Fauna. Now, we are waiting for the approval of Ibama to know if those proposed measures can be implemented or not”, he said.
In response to the BBC, Ibama confirmed that it had received the Dnit mitigation plan.
“Ibama analyzed the content presented and requested additional information, which has already been presented. At the moment, the team that conducts the road’s environmental licensing analyzes the plan as a priority with a view to authorizing its execution, which is expected to occur later in May.”
Solutions to reduce collisions
According to Ibama, the mitigation plan has as its main focus the definition of critical points of being run over and measures such as the implementation of fauna crossings and guide fences, speed control and reduction, road signs and educational campaigns.
“The fencing will prevent the animal from accessing the highway. But it can create a connectivity problem. How then is this animal going to cross? That’s where the importance of the passage of fauna comes in. [feita por cima ou por baixo das rodovias]. This combination is very important and effective, mainly for medium to large animals, which are capable of being involved in very serious accidents with human victims”, explains Erica Naomi Saito, specialist in transport ecology, adding that the measures must consider animals of different sizes and species.
The biologist explains that, although the problem draws attention on the BR-262 and in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul due to the numbers, the problem is very common on all Brazilian highways.
“That’s because, unfortunately, in Brazil, this concern with protecting the fauna and, consequently, protecting road users has historically been neglected. It was only in the last decade that we started a more intense discussion, and we know that the implantation process of these mitigation measures is too slow.”