Science - April 1, 2004

Toads cross the road with help from traffic agents

There’s an unusual traffic sign on a temporary fence that gets placed across the road running to the ferry in Wageningen each evening at 11.30 during March and April. Volunteers patrol along the Veerweg at dawn and dusk to help migrating toads cross the road safely.

The amphibians spend the winter on the south slope of the Wageningse Berg (literally mountain) and move down to the floodplain of the Rhine in the spring for spawning. The toads in Wageningen are common, so the traffic agents are not vital to the survival of the species. According to chief toad traffic agent Harm Hofman the hundred or so volunteers help out of love for animals. Many children also participate and so learn something about the local wildlife. Hofman continues: “Each animal has a right to live. Without our help I reckon about thirty percent of the toads would be run over by cars. So far this year the mortality rate is only five percent, so it does make a difference.”

Up to now this season the volunteers have helped 300 toads over the road. That is less than half of the 700 last year, and far fewer than the 1900 toads three years ago. The decline may be due to the unusually hot and dry summer of 2003, that there are fewer toads waiting to cross the road this year. Hofman doesn’t know for sure. There may still be a few hundred waiting to come down to the floodplain as the weather turns warmer and hopefully wetter. The traffic agents will continue their work for another few weeks yet. | K.V.