Scientific American reports that one to two million animals are killed by motorists every year in the United States - the equivalent of one collision every 26 seconds. That doesn't include all the raccoons, skunks and other smaller animals that usually go unreported when hit.

These accidents have far-ranging consequences. They threaten endangered species like wolves, tortoises, crocodiles and panthers. They also threaten another potentially endangered species: humans. The Federal Highway Administration says that 90 per cent of deer collisions and nearly 100 per cent of collisions with elk and moose result in vehicle damage, human injuries and deaths at a cost - according to the Insurance Information Institute - of nearly US$3.6 billion (NZ$4.9b) a year.

Many technologies that try to reduce roadkill accidents are in use today - from electromagnetic detectors under roads in Colorado to "toad tunnels," "bat bridges," "scent fences" and radio sensors. Carmakers like Volvo have installed their own wildlife detection systems on some of their vehicles. But most of these solutions are focused on much larger animals and many fall far short of truly addressing the problem.

However, a Brazilian start-up might be on to something.


In Brazil, like here, roadkill accidents are a big problem. For example, the Brazilian state of São Paulo alone has recorded more than 23,000 accidents between drivers and animals in the eight-year period between 2005 and 2013, and that's just what we know about. Fortunately, a Brazilian start-up called ViaFauna has developed a technology that the founders believe could eliminate roadkill accidents by more than 90 per cent.

The company, with the help of government research grants, has developed a proprietary electronic roadside animal detection system that will alert for both large and smaller animals. The system uses solar-powered motion sensors placed in roadkill "hotspots" a short distance apart that can transmit and receive an infrared light that humans and animals can't detect. But when the beam is interrupted an electronic message or beacon light would alert drivers. It's like a speed trap for wildlife.

"Our detection system warns drivers hundreds of meters or even a kilometer or two ahead of an actual animal crossing, giving them time to take precautions," said Fernanda Delborgo Abra, one of the company's founders, told She helped come up with the idea as part of her graduate school research. "This system is far more effective than a mere sign warning that wildlife may cross the road."

The system - which will also track animal crossings and gather other relevant data for environmentalists and researchers - has gone through various prototypes and is now in an advanced stage of development. But it still needs a few additional changes to make it more market-friendly. If Abra succeeds with this product in Brazil, imagine the opportunities for her company in this country. I bet she'll make a killing.