Eating Roadkill: It's free, free range, organic, sustainable, and locally sourced. So why not eat it?

Categories: Sustainability

Road kill is something that most of us try to avoid at all costs but road-tripper and nomad Len Zell believes that road kill is not something to swerve around but rather something to stop and study closely.

Nothing is too fancy for Len Zell's plate.

The marine scientist and author of 'Wild Discovery Guides - Australian Wildlife RoadKill', Zell has spent a great deal of time travelling Australia, taking great interest in the various creatures that meet their end on the open road.

Spending weeks at a time on the road and sometimes completely alone for several days at a time, Zell loves hitting the highways.

"After a few months my pedal feet get a bit itchy and if they're not wearing fins I guess I go for the accelerator clutch and brake pedals and hit the road."

Zell has encountered all kinds of road kill on his travels, discovering many intriguing things about Australia's environment from the animals he finds by the road side.

"It gives me an understanding of the diversity of our wildlife and how special it is and how much I don't know about it."

Scientists like Zell also use the prevalence of certain species found on the roads to tell how populations are surviving in certain areas.

"It does give you a good idea of population density. The last recorded eastern quoll was as a road kill in Sydney and has never been recorded since."

He often stops to attend to the animals he sees by the side of the road, much to the annoyance of his fellow passengers. He often pulls over or turns back to check whether or not the animal in question has a pulse or perhaps a joey in its pouch.

Although Zell says that "people are becoming much better at avoiding wildlife" he isn't in favour of avoidance when it comes to feral animals like cane toads.

"Feral animals as far as I'm concerned are fair game, as long as you are humane in the way you do it" says Zell. Zell has this advice for drivers who target cane toads and deliberately run them down in an attempt to lessen population numbers; do the job properly.

"As I say to my daughters, if you're going to drive a car and you hit an animal, it's your responsibility to go back and make sure that animal is properly dead, not somebody else's following you. Even if you have to run over it three times to kill it, it's better to do that than to leave it dying in pain for who knows how long."

Zell's book is a serious one (it was runner up in the 2007 Whitley Awards as a significant contribution to Australian zoology) but it is also quirky, with road kill recipes and interesting facts like how long different animals take to decay.

When it comes to consuming furry creatures found on the road, Zell has eaten road killed kangaroo and pig. This type of tyre-marked treat would make most people queasy, but Zell says that there are worse things to munch on than road killed meats.

"Most road kill is probably better for you than most of the processed meats that we get that have been fed who knows what chemicals for how long."

He says that as long as the animal is cooked properly, parasites are not an issue as they are killed when the meat is heated. It seems road kill isn't just something for scientists to study; it's also an unlikely source of lunch.

Roadkill is a modest book by Len Zell, who was at the time an Honorary Associate of the School of Environmental Sciences and Resource Management at the University of New England and is now an Adjunct Senior Lecturer at James Cook University in the School of Marine & Tropical Biology. 

Roadkill runs to 102 pages but is packed with interesting stuff - particularly for the newbie roadkiller. But more seriously, this little book is packed with all sorts of useful (and some irreverent and funny) suggestions.

These include a definition and scope of the roadkill problem, how to avoid killing things as much as possible and, perhaps most importantly, and wise advice about what to do with roadkill and being aware of the worst case scenarios.

In addition the book gives an unusual insight into the many aspects of Australia's very special fauna, albeit in a somewhat macabre way.

More than 200 photographs of roadkill, all allowing identification of the major animal groups and an excellent guide on how to avoid and observe roadkill and who to send interesting specimens or photographs to.

Roadkill was shortlisted for the Whitley Award for significant contribution to Australian zoology.

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