An unsuspecting deer crosses a snow-covered road. An unsuspecting deer crosses a snow-covered road. An unsuspecting deer crosses a snow-covered road. (Photo: Waze)

Waze for wildlife: GPS app is looking out for animals

New initiative will create maps and seek safer alternative routes for traveling herds.

You're driving down the highway, and your Waze app brightly announces: Vehicle stopped on shoulder ahead. How did it know that information? The app is crowdsourced, so that means a helpful driver ahead of you notified the app, which in turn notified you.

But did you know users can also report roadkill? That feature has actually been a part of the Waze app for a while. Indeed, in January alone, the Waze community of drivers logged 1,416 roadkill reports. But beginning this month, they're taking that reporting one step further.

The Israel-based company, acquired by Google in 2013, is teaming up with a local nonprofit to help wildlife. The app has launched a pilot program in which it will send all roadkill reports in Israel to the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI), the country's largest nature protection agency. In turn, the SPNI will gather that data to create a Red Road Atlas for Wildlife – essentially a map of the most dangerous roads for animals. That information can then be used to help redirect animal packs to alternative, and safer, routes.

Highway crossing bridges for animals, like the one above in Banff National Park, have prevented thousands of car-wildlife collisions.Highway crossing bridges for animals, like the one above in Banff National Park, have prevented thousands of car-wildlife collisions. (Photo: Robert Crum/Shutterstock)

For years, scientists around the world have been creating wildlife corridors near existing roads. These nature highways help entire ecosystems expand and thrive despite their close proximity to humans. For example, on the Trans Canada Highway that cuts through Banff National Park, a series of overpasses and underpasses have been built to solve the problem of frequent car-wildlife collisions. So far, naturalists have documented 140,000 animals crossing the highway using the bridges.

In a related move to prevent animals from getting hurt, a Texas-based group is working to get Waze to alert drivers when they are entering areas like national parks where there are high animal concentrations.

Waze often pilots new initiatives at its home base in Israel. A parking spot finder feature was first tested in the Mediterranean country before being exported elsewhere. Waze's new carpool tool, which is now rolling out in several U.S. cities, started as a ride-sharing program in three Israeli cities.

“Waze users and wildlife-protection authorities have already expressed much interest,” Shmulik Yedvab, the director of SPNI’s Mammal Department, told Bloomberg News. “If it works, I’m pretty sure it will be adopted globally.”

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