When I decided to write this blog, I wrote out a list of all sorts of things that could make interesting, or at least mildly humorous, posts. The topics range from television to high tea, but at the very top was the first thing that popped into my mind: the suicidal fauna of the Welsh countryside.
Actually, what I wrote on that list was “THE ANIMALS WANT TO DIE!!!” My hand is never quite as posh as my head.
Being a lover of all animals, it pains me to talk to about this, but anyone who has lived out in the country will back me up when I say that many of our furry/winged/four-legged friends are kind of dumb. They may be cute or vital to the ecosystem, but they weren’t blessed with an abundance of brains. Hence, a common sight in the middle of Wales is a heap of bloody death on the side of a twisting, narrow road. Rarely a car ride goes by where we do not encounter the carcass of something that tried, in vain, to cross the pavement at the worst possible moment.
For the first couple of weeks, I shook an invisible fist at the terrible drivers who had been in such a hurry to get to the pub that they couldn’t slow down for a squirrel or, more commonly, a pheasant, but that changed one night as Paul and I drove home from Shrewsbury.
I have his permission to tell this story, although I will stress that he did his very best to avoid the rabbit that darted out in front of us, and he felt very bad afterwards. What was he supposed to do, though? The roads are narrow and often there’s only rocky cliff on one side and a long drop to a sheep field on the other, so swerving is not an option. Not to mention that the animals, who are perfectly content to be on one side of the road during the car’s approach, only change their minds and decide that they need to be on the other side RIGHT THEN when the car has already reached their position. Screeching to a halt rarely works.
The rabbit appeared in the path of our headlights only a split second before we hit it. It was too dark to look back, not that I would have. I already had visions of baby bunnies left to starve without a parent; I didn’t need to see that parent’s corpse. (And, yes, I realize that those fictional babies probably won’t be born until spring, but I was a bit traumatized. I also imagined the rabbit community coming to mourn his death and carry his body back to his family. Very Watership Down.) Paul tried to comfort me when I started crying, but I didn’t blame him for what had happened. Trying to avoid the rabbit might have ended in our deaths; I am not that much of a bleeding heart. Still, it seriously bothered me.
After a dozen close calls since then, though, I have started to wonder if that little hare just had a death wish that night. I mean, I could write a blog post about how humans encroach on wilderness and the result is an increase in bunny murders, but I don’t think anyone is unaware of the impact civilization has on nature. What I think no one has taken into consideration is that some animals are just smarter than others and they adapt better to things like roads. Maybe it never occurs to them that getting to the other side might cost them their life, but they can at least draw the connection between cars and death.
I’ve complied a list of the most common victims of vehicular slaughter and arranged them in order from smartest to dumbest. Why? Um…good question. What else is there to do while I wait for my laundry to come out of the dryer?
Level of intelligence: MENSA member
You will never see these guys spattered on the road because when they see a car coming, they use those wings attached to their bodies and fly the hell away! They have learned that cars are bigger and they are not ashamed to back down from a fight with one. These birds are usually only in the road because they are eating the remains of the animals who challenged the cars and lost. They also seem to be cackling about it, which is kind of rude, but intelligence doesn’t always mean kindness.
Level of intelligence: Unknown
So far, I have only seen one of these guys dead and for some reason it made my lip quibble harder than usual. Maybe it’s because badgers have enough problems around here from farmers who want to eradicate them. At any rate, whether they’re rarer or just quicker can’t really be determined, but they seem to be better at waiting for cars to pass before they race for the other side.
Level of intelligence: Average college graduate
Pride goeth before a fall, and if cats weren’t so damn sure they can beat the cars and make it to the other side with grace and elegance, none of them might fall prey to the mighty wheels. Alas, they are are not as fast as your average sedan, so, sadly, many a sweet purring machine has lost their life thus. Personally, I blame the owners more than the victims in these cases; knowing how many animals die on the roads, who would let their pets run free?
Level of intelligence: Grade school dropout
We all know that squirrels are on a mission to get to something and that something is always on the opposite side of the road. Despite being quick, they take far more chances than even cats do, resulting in far more deaths. They are a common daily special at the Road Kill Grill. By the way, here’s a fun fact: according to British law, if you take home an animal that you kill with your car, it is illegal poaching, but if the guy in the car behind you slows down and scoops up what you hit, that is a-okay. Creepy as hell, but totally legal.
Level of intelligence: GOP Congressional candidate from Virginia
Pheasants are, without a doubt, the dumbest winged creatures in the UK because after millions of years of evolution, they have yet to figure out that those wings will lift them off the ground as cars approach and carry them to safety. 80% of everything dead on the roads are pheasants, either the beautiful males seen above or their dowdy harems of females. There was a harem in the side field of Paul’s home when I visited in March; I named them Henry, Kate, Anne and Jane. They, like their royal Tudor namesakes, are probably all dead now. I think pheasants must be the basis for the law about vehicular poaching as they are the only animal one would want to take home for Sunday lunch. Sadly, though, most of them just get picked apart by the crows after their final, fatal dash to the mythical land of hedges and dreams that is the other side of the road.
You may say that I have spent too much time thinking about all of this and you might be right. However, coming to terms with animal death is a big part of living this far into rural Wales, whether you reside on a sheep farm or just next to one. I have never been good with suffering and I probably never will be, but at least I am settling in and learning what is normal and unpreventable and what is cruel and senseless.
And I thought I had learned those lessons well until the other day when I asked Paul what happened to all of the baby sheep who lived in the field across from the house last spring.
He still hasn’t told me.