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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tunnels Could Leave Some Critters Cross

The Moscow City Department of Architectural Planning laid itself open to charges of speciesism Wednesday when it announced a new animal immigration policy that would deny larger, hairier wild animals the chance of safe passage across the outer ring highway.

"We'll be constructing special tunnels for small and waterborne animals to pass safely under the highway," said Nikolai Shebedev, a director in charge of road construction.

"We concluded, after consultation with zoologists, that it would not be feasible or necessary to construct large tunnels for deer and wild boars. They just don't come that way."

Benefitting from the new tunnels, said Shebedev, will be beavers, polecats, rats, frogs, snakes and several varieties of small rodent that migrate frequently from within the city limits to the Losinny Island national park in search of food.

However, zoologist Natalya Istratova of the Moscow Zoo expressed surprise and confusion when told about the tunnel plans.

"Beavers? " she said. "There are no beavers in that area. I mean, none. And boars and deer are going to be serious problem there.

"They'll be trying to get past that road, and there's enough of them to make it dangerous for them and for drivers."

The need to build the tunnels arose earlier this year when the department constructed high fences along the road to make it impossible for man or beast to cross the highway even in times of light traffic.

Striking a large deer at a high speed can be fatal to people as well as the animal. Although Shebedev said that no such accidents had occurred this year, he said such problem s are common in Russia, just as they are in many wooded regions of Europe and North America.

The department also is currently building 54 tunnels for human pedestrians in locations all around the city, particularly in areas near bus stations on either side of the highway. At present there are very few foot bridges or tunnels, and pedestrians still make their way onto the road.

The department originally planned to build wide tunnels for deer and boars. Such tunnels would have had natural, forested surfaces more attractive to the animals.

The department even went to the extraordinary step of sending a team of scientists out to follow a family of deer in the Losinniy Island area to see which types of forest growth they preferred to walk on.

The team eventually concluded, however, that deer migration was sparse enough to make such tunnel construction unnecessary.

The tunnels for smaller animals will simply be widened versions of existing aqueducts. Shebedev declined to say what the project would cost.

Istratova was skeptical that the animals would use the tunnels.

"Your average animal won't like to go into a dark place. The tunnels will need to be very wide," she said.

"My guess is that they want to do things right, but that it will turn out the way things always do."

Shebedev, for his part, defended the plan. "We're trying to make it possible for snakes and little froggies to eat," he said.