Aarian Marshall is a transportation reporter at WIRED and former CityLab contributor. She lives in San Francisco.
Reflective paint is part of the latest plan to save the animals’ lives.
More than a hundred years ago, the hapless traveler might have encountered a supernatural hound on the grounds of England’s Dartmoor National Park. This moody, quiet moorland inspired one famous mystery writer to pen a tale about the family Baskerville. Today, however, joyriders around Dartmoor more likely to encounter another frightening sight: a glow-in-the-dark pony.
A new pilot project in the southwestern English town involves a fluorescent strip of paint used to protect the native ponies from dangerous drivers.
Dartmoor ponies have lived in the southern Devon area for at least 3,500 years, but today their numbers are dwindling. That’s partly due to plummeting demand for horse meat, but motor vehicles are certainly no help. According to Karla Mckechnie, Dartmoor’s livestock protection officer, free-grazing ponies have been hurt in 74 road accidents this year. For the ponies, Mckechnie notes in an email, these accidents “are usually fatal.”
Inspired by stories of Finnish reindeer whose antlers had been sprayed with glow-in-the-dark paint to prevent accidents, Mckechnie reached out to a local manufacturer to query about animal-safe paint that might reflect off approaching headlights.
Though Mckechnie is still working to refine the paint used to create the reflective stripes—the first iteration degraded over time—she and other local officials stress that local drivers have to take some initiative.
"This is the worst time of the year, moving into darker evenings and foggy, icy roads," Dartmoor National Park Authority spokesman Mike Nendick told the Western Morning News. "The speed limit on the moors is 40 mph, but we ask people to drive in accordance with the road conditions, and that could mean a lot less than 40 mph."
In short: If the Dartmoor ponies have to wear this goofy-looking paint, the least you could do is slow down.