According to reports by researchers, drivers in relation to animals hit and killed by cars can be lumped into three categories: those who lament seeing roadside corpses, those who are indifferent, and those who go out of their way to deliberately injure animals in the road. When it comes to the latter group, their motivation may be construed as being within the realm of “population control”, but in many cases, it is a streak of pure cruelty. An innocent creature navigating through modern man’s world is at an unnatural disadvantage, and some drivers may take advantage of their opportunity to injure or kill them. The evil of man never ceases to amaze. An experiment involving fake reptiles put this cruelty to the test.

A 2017 study by Mark Rober explores the relationship between species and intentional hit-and-runs. Using rubber animals as stand-ins for the real thing, he placed ersatz turtles, snakes, and tarantulas on the shoulder of the road to prove his hypothesis that people will swerve to hit more turtles than snakes. While 3.2% of drivers aimed for the tarantula, only 1.8% went for the snake, and a mere 1.0% for the turtle – statistics which Rober says proves they are “cold-blooded rubber animal killers.” The good news is that a higher number of drivers attempted to rescue the animals: 4% tried to save the turtle, and 1.7% reached out to the snake. Even animal control pulled over to help! He had to reject his own hypothesis, but was all the same pleased to see some people reaching out with care. You’ll find Rober’s findings at “Intentional Vehicle Wildlife Collisions.”

The formation of Rober’s hypothesis was based on a 1989 Kansas experiment by scientists Langley, Lipps, and Theis “using black snake models, blue snake models, and a black hose.” This time the fake creatures were placed on the mid-strip of the road to ensure that drivers were in fact going out of their way to hit the animals. 2.7% of drivers intentionally ran over the models, while 3.3% stopped to rescue them. When model turtles were introduced to the lineup in a 2007 Canadian study by scientists Ashley, Kosloski, and Petrie, it showed the snake was hit 1.4 times more than the turtle, but also saved 1.1 times more.

In a 2011 Australian study by Beckmann and Shine suggested another possible outlet for drivers’ hit-and-runs was their rationalizing and self-aggrandizing belief that they were invasive species cleansing. Drivers were asked if they would intentionally run over snakes, turtles, or cane toads. The latter are considered to be an invasive species in the area. A whopping twenty-five percent attested they would run over cane toads. However, in the set-up experiment, it was found that cane toads were hit no more or less frequently than turtles and snakes. It would seem the claims people made about their “noble” desire to hurt animals did not quite hold up under scrutiny.

Though there are people who will go to lengths to kill animals, there are even more who care enough to keep animals away from harm. It appears so bizarre that people would harbor hatred in their hearts to the extent that they would kill a fellow creature, but inspiring that there are those who help to rescue – proving that more humans have good in their hearts than not.

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Lily Wolf lives in the Hudson Valley in New York State.  She researches and writes for Wildlife Watch and works with other animal protection organizations.