The New York Times just documented what it describes as a "rising threat to wildlife": electrocution.
Power lines and poorly-installed electric fences are the biggest culprits, killing animals from shrews to elephants in tragic, unnecessary deaths. By the way, those deaths can be expensive for utilities and customers, because they sometimes cause power outages and damage to the grid.
According to the Times, animals who come into contact with live components may react by gripping harder, rather than leaping away, which can overload their hearts. When it comes to power poles, jerking back or falling can come with its own risks when it involves being at the top of a power pole. Some animals incur injuries that aren't immediately fatal but do cause death in hours or days, sometimes after prolonged suffering.
We have the technical know-how and tools to address this common danger, so why aren't we doing it? The simple reason is that taking these steps requires money and time, in some cases a lot of it, especially when it comes to retrofitting the electrical grid. But utilities are also constantly upgrading equipment; it should be possible to roll animal-friendly changes into this process to improve outcomes over the next five to ten years. In nations where rapid electrification is creating a blooming of power poles across the landscape, this is the time to get in at the ground level with animal-friendly fixes.
One option with power lines is undergrounding, but that's costly and it can come with its own risks. Fortunately, the Times notes, there are other steps people can take to deter climbing and roosting on poles as well as other activities that could put animals into contact with live currents.
It's time for utilities to start designing with animals in mind. They should be collaborating with conservation organizations that can apply their knowledge of animal behavior to this problem and help utilities develop effective measures to cut down on the number of electrocution deaths.
Photo credit: Barbara Eckstein