Bald eagles and elephants are just two animals that are terribly affected by power line electrocutions due to colonization and urban sprawl
I recently wrote about why birds can usually can sit on power lines without being shocked or electrocuted.
The quick answer to why birds can survive but humans die by being electrocuted is that a bird’s toes and feet are at the same electrical potential when perched, so the electrons in the wires or power lines have no motivation to travel through the bird’s body; moving electrons means no electric current. Not so for humans.
And, tragically, it’s also not the case for other wildlife. Most people are completely unaware of the staggering numbers of animals and majestic wildlife that are killed by electrocution. Even with birds, there are still frequent electrocutions when a bird stretches out a wing or leg, and touches a second wire, it can open a “path to ground” for the electrons to electrocute the bird.
For instance, in March, a bald eagle was electrocuted when it ventured into South Chicago and tried to land on a stretch of power lines, prompting an article on DNAinfo. Witnesses were shocked and saddened by the majestic bird’s untimely, unnatural death.
Seth Magle, director of Lincoln Park Zoo’s Urban Wildlife Institute, told dnainfo.com that a bald eagle landing on a power line and dying is not unlike a coyote darting in front of a passing car.
Why our cities are so dangerous?
“Cities are dangerous for wild animals,” he said.
Cities are dangerous for humans, too. Many of my own cases as a lawyer who focuses his practice on electrocution deaths and shock injuries have involved people, not animals or birds. We fail to appreciate just how dangerous our own cities have become, especially our older neighborhoods where infrastructure has been allowed to dangerously deteriorate without inspection or maintenance.
And while America’s older neighborhoods and infrastructure may or may not yet be approaching third-world or fourth world status, the numbers of people being electrocuted is especially high in countries that are not as developed as America. Whereas most of my own electrocution lawsuits involve areas where laws are broken or needed maintenance is ignored and inspections not performed, at least we do have the laws and inspection rules to begin with. In many other countries, the protocols are still lacking and the regulations weak.
Take India. One tragic example is the staggering number of elephants that are electrocuted by sagging and unmaintained power lines in India.
Last year, the Guardian told the story of a large tusker that was electrocuted by a sagging high tension electric cable in Assam India’s Kaziranga national park.
When two large bull elephants emerged from flooded Kaziranga to reach high ground, one blundered into an electric wire, which the animals could not see at night. Sandesh Kadur, a wildlife filmmaker, who was in the area, says the cable was just 5 feet 2 inches off the ground, while years of waterlogging had eroded the base of the posts until they leaned and caused the lines to sag. A range officer who was in the area during the electrocution, reportedly heard an explosion and then saw the tusker elephant lying dead in the water, while the other was able to escape.
According to the Guardian, this was not a random, unavoidable electrical accident. In 2011, the Wildlife Society of Orissa, India identified 147 locations where sagging lines posed a threat to wildlife, while power distribution companies claimed not to have funds to repair the lines.
This is a straightforward case of negligence and neglect by state power distribution companies in India. The standard height from the ground set by the Indian Electricity Rules is 20 feet high.
In all, T.R. Shankar Raman of Nature Conservation Foundation stated that Electricity kills more elephants in parts of India than poachers do. For example, in Karnataka, the number of elephants that are electrocuted is three to four times higher than poaching cases. Meanwhile, 78 elephants died of electrocution in five years, according to the Karnataka state Elephant Task Force report of 2012.
In the case of the elephant who was electrocuted looking for high land above, the electricity company workers reportedly straightened the posts to prevent further electrocution accidents. But it took the life of a magnificent animal to get these deadly lines fixed.
Animal or human, the cause is often the same
This is often the case when preventable electrocution deaths of humans and animals occur – the electrical wires and posts are not properly maintained. As I’ve written, electrocution accidents involving power lines that hurt or kill people are often not really accidents at all, but rather they are foreseeable consequences of carelessness, sloppiness, and neglect. They occur when your local utility company fails to inspect and repair its power distribution infrastructure.
And this does get to the root cause: the most common reason why people and animals die from electrocution events is because electric companies pursue profits ahead of safety. Here’s why.
I started this safety blog, not as a lawyer, but also as a safety advocate who has been litigating very preventable shock injuries and electrocutions for four decades. I write because as an attorney I am limited by the number of cases I can handle and the people I can help, and I write because I wonder how many more lives have to be lost – people or animal – by all-too-human- neglect.