Bolivia’s “death road” becomes wildlife haven

The so-called Camino de la Muerte offered the only connection between the world's highest capital city – La Paz and northern Bolivia.

So many people died in the 1990s in accidents on the heavily trafficked highway with its 100m drop-offs, that the Inter-American Development Bank described it as “the world's most dangerous road.”

In 2007 Bolivia built a safer alternative, the Cotapata-Santa Bárbara road which reduced traffic on “Death Road” by 90 percent. The road now flourishes with the country's rich biodiversity of animals. 

A 2022 study from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) found that the formerly busy highway teemed with different species of mammals and birds. Biologists installed 35 camera traps along 12km of road. The images captured 16 species of medium and large mammals and 94 species of wild birds. The most common animals include the white-throated quail-dove, a small deer known as the Peruvian dwarf brocket, a chicken-like bird called the Andean guan, and the oncilla cat, or northern tiger cat.

The study pointed out that highways of whatever kind cause a variety of negative effects, both direct and indirect, on animal life, such as an increase in chemical pollution, species displacement, death by cars, and behavioural changes due to excessive noise.

It's become increasingly clear in recent years that adding wildlife crossings to roadways makes a huge and positive impact and evidence shows that small changes can allow nature to coexist with humans.

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Author: Sylvia Jacobs

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