When I was a kid in upstate New York I passed a deer crossing sign every day. The big yellow square with a black silhouette of a graceful leaping buck was a symbol of the wilderness that lay in hiding just outside of my vision. It never occurred to me there might be other similar animal crossing signs across the world but with pictures of bizarre and amazing creatures that I’d never even heard of. When I began to travel as a wildlife photographer I realized that the world was a treasure chest full of crazy animal crossing signs waiting to be discovered. I began photographing them on my first visit to Africa thirteen years ago. Since then my collection has grown to over fifty different species. Each new sign thrills me and reminds me that somewhere in the bush an incredible creature could be watching me, like a panther or a penguin or even an elephant. This is the first time I have ever published a selection of shots from my collection, so I hope you enjoy my twenty favorite animal crossing signs in the whole wide world.
1) Elephant Crossing, Nambia
The photo above was actually taken by my wife Cristina, as you probably guessed since I’m in it. An African Elephant (Loxodonta africana) is about the craziest animal I can imagine appearing in the road in front of me (except perhaps a dinosaur). Yet, during our travels in northern Botswana and in the Caprivi Strip of Namibia, elephants in the road actually became a common sight.
2) Owl Crossing, South Africa
I have an emotional attachment to this one because it is the very first weird wildlife crossing sign I ever photographed back in 2002. My guess would be that the sign refers to the Spotted Eagle Owl (Bubo africanus) which we’ve often seen sitting in the road during night drives in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park of South Africa. It’s also fun that this sign says caution in both English and Afrikaans. The sign has since disappeared and has been replaced with a green one, which simply says “SLOW!!”
3) Kangaroo Crossing, Australia
Australia’s most iconic animal and most iconic landmark together in the same photo. What’s not to love? The big red rock is Uluru (aka Ayer’s Rock). That’s what makes this one of my all time favorite animal crossing signs. The sign most likely refers to Australia’s largest marsupial, the Red Kangaroo (Macropus rufus). Sadly there are loads of dead kangaroos along Australia’s highways and many drivers actually install “roo bars” on the front of their vehicles to reduce damage to their trucks. Doesn’t help the poor kangaroos much however.
This sign appears near the Community Baboon Sanctuary in Bermudian Landing, Belize. As indicated by the sign, the monkeys actually cross on little ladders suspended over the road which is pretty cool. Though the local folks call them “baboons” they are in fact Howler Monkeys, some of the loudest animals on the planet. This is a great place to see howlers, specifically the Guatemalan (Yucatan) Black Howler Monkey (Alouatta pigra).
5) Panther Crossing, USA
With less than two hundred of these remaining in the wild, the odds of ever actually seeing a Florida Panther (Puma concolor coryi) on the highway are ridiculously slim. Yet somehow, these elusive cats still get killed on Southern Florida’s back roads every year. It is a thrill to know these powerful creatures still roam the wilds of the eastern United States, even if it is only in tiny pockets around the Florida Everglades.
6) Capybara Crossing, Brazil
It’s hard to imagine a sign that warns about rodents crossing the road, unless that rodent happens to be the largest rodent in the world: the Capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris). In the wilds of Brazil lies the world’s largest wetland area, the Pantanal. There is one lonely road crossing it known as the Transpantaneira and it is a treasure trove of super cool animal crossing signs. I love this one because it shows some cute little baby Capybaras following a huge adult, which is actually a fairly common sight. How huge are they? Up to 150 pounds! As big as me!
7) Koala Crossing, Australia
I encountered this sign while driving through a fairly populated area in southeastern Australia. Being from the United States, a Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) seems like one of the most exotic animals I could imagine crossing the road in front of me. You can tell by all the eucalyptus trees in the background (the koala’s favorite food) that this really is Koala habitat. The thing I find funny about the illustration is that the fluffy ear tufts are portrayed very accurately and realistically, while the limbs appear to be nubby little stumps. It’s not surprising that the artist was stumped as to how to draw their rather confusing paws. The front hands have two opposable digits (the first and second). The back feet have one large opposable digit while the second and third digits are fused together but retain two claws. Super wacky but great for climbing trees!
8) Rhea Crossing, Argentina
Birds don’t often get their own animal crossing signs so it’s always fun to spot one. As one of the world’s largest birds, the Rhea definitely deserves one. There are two species of Rhea, the great and the lesser. This sign is warning me to watch out for the Lesser Rhea (Rhea pennata) as it is the only rhea found here in the extreme southern end of Patagonia in Argentina. Ñandú is the local name for the Rhea. The sign is saying “Respect them Mr. Driver!”
9) Bat-eared Fox Crossing, South Africa
Look at those ridiculously tall ears on the illustration. That is not a mistake by the artist. This sign is warning drivers to watch out for one of my favorite Kalahari Desert creatures, the Bat-eared Fox (Otocyon megalotis). Many species of bats have ears that look way too big for their head, and so does this little fox! The huge ears help them hone in on tiny prey animals scurrying around at night, primarily termites, beetles, and other small invertebrates. It’s not easy to spot a bat-eared fox in the wild, but sadly it is all too easy to see a dead one on this road leading into the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in South Africa.
10) Little Blue Penguin Crossing, New Zealand
Penguin crossing. Ha! Now that’s just cool. Not something you’d expect to see behind a shopping center, but the Little Blue Penguin (Eudyptula minor) is occasionally found burrowing in residential neighborhoods like this one in Omaru, New Zealand. These guys are the smallest penguin species in the world (about a foot tall) which means this sign is portraying them at about actual size! It’s also kind of cute that they made them blue in the sign because the Little Penguin actually does look kind of blue under the right light.
11) Snake Crossing, Guatemala
Good for you Guatemala. Snakes definitely don’t get enough respect in this world. Asphalt roads are a favorite place for snakes to warm up on a chilly day so when I see something that looks like a stick lying in the road, I always slow down and try to catch a glimpse of these elusive creatures. I came across this sign on the road through the jungle leading to the ancient Maya ruins of Tikal. If you like animal crossing signs, you’ve gotta drive this road. It’s the best collection I’ve seen anywhere in the world.
12) Warthog Crossing, Namibia
The warthog (Phacochoerus africanus) is one of my favorite animals in Africa and it’s haughty little attitude is captured perfectly in this warthog crossing sign near Etosha National Park in Namibia. One of the funniest things about warthogs is that when they get nervous and are about to run, their pencil thin tails stick straight up into the air like little flagpoles. So if you did see a warthog on the road, it would probably look just like this excellent illustration. The other really cute behavior, which did not make it into the sign, is that the long wiry hairs on their back stand up like a crazy mohawk. I love warthogs!
13) Guanaco Crossing, Chile
Ever heard of a Guanaco? I hadn’t either until I started driving around Patagonia in Southern Chile. They are related to camels and like their Afro-Asian cousins they are well adapted to living in dry environments. The Guanaco (Lama guanicoe) is the wild ancestor of the domesticated llama. I like this illustration for its attempt at giving the Guanaco some facial details. My favorite part about watching Guanacos by the road was witnessing their amazing leaping ability. They could jump over a six-foot fence from a stand-still!
14) Camel Crossing, Australia
You might expect to find camel crossing signs in the Sahara Desert, but I found this one thousands of miles away in the central deserts of Australia. The Dromedary (one-humped camel) is native to northern Africa and the Middle East but was imported by the thousands into the Australian outback in the late 1800’s as transportation. Since then, a feral population boomed into nearly a million individuals. Though a culling operation has severely cut the numbers of this non-native mammal, you are likely to see camel crossing signs for many years to come. (Camelus dromedarius)
15) Bat Crossing, Mexico
Um, bat crossing? Yes bats have incredible maneuverability and sonar that allows them to catch insects in flight, but they are still no match for a Buick traveling 70 miles per hour. Here, next to a remote highway in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, lies a deep natural well (a cenote) that is home to millions of bats. This cenote is in the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, one of Central America’s wildest patches of jungle. Each night at 5:30 nearly three million bats exit the cave in a swirling vortex, and each night dozens are struck by passing cars. At least eight different species of bats can be seen exiting from the “bat volcano”!
16) Bear Crossing, USA
This is a really cute bear crossing sign I spotted in northern California. Aww, a bear cub. But what strikes me most about the sign is that the illustration looks like it is supposed to be a grizzly (there is a small hump in the shoulder blade area). Even though the state flag of California proudly displays a large grizzly bear striding across its middle, the grizzly was exterminated from the state nearly a hundred years ago. There has never been another grizzly spotted in the “Bear Republic” since then. More likely, this sign is supposed to refer to the still numerous black bear.
17) Crocodile Crossing, Australia
I found this sign in the Northern Territory of Australia near Kakadu National Park. I love it because 1) it reminds me that one of the world’s most terrifying creatures, the Saltwater Crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) might appear in the road in front of me at any moment, and 2) because it has the most highly detailed drawing I’ve ever seen on any animal crossing sign! Pretty creepy right?
18) Coati Crossing, Guatemala
Here’s another great sign on the road to Tikal in Guatemala. It is a Coati, also known as a Coatimundi. This sign is referring to the local White-nosed Coati (Nasua narica). They are adorable members of the raccoon family that wander around in large bands and forage through the forest with their long flexible noses. This sign depicts their nose as being quite a bit longer and pointier than they actually are.
19) Giant Anteater Crossing, Brazil
Though I have yet to see one in the wild, the Giant Anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) is probably my all-time favorite creature in the world. It was a thrill just knowing that these beautifully bizarre creatures could be lurking somewhere nearby as I drove through the Pantanal wetlands of Brazil.
20) Wombat Crossing, Australia
I love the name “wombat” and I love the creature. Some of my fondest memories of wildlife watching in Australia are of crawling around in a field behind the large round bottom of wombat while it dined lazily on grasses. They are close relatives of the koala and, like other marsupials, they raise their young in a pouch. However, the wombat has the fascinating distinction of having a pouch that points backwards! This prevents dirt from entering the pouch while wombats burrow through their tunnels.
Bonus: Dung Beetle Crossing, South Africa
As a bonus, here is one final animal crossing sign. It is the only one I’ve ever seen that was dedicated to an insect. The Flightless Dung Beetle (Circellium bacchus) is listed as “vulnerable” and is only found in a few locations in South Africa, including Addo Elephant Park where this sign was photographed. Cars are their primary source of mortality. So if you see a big shiny black beetle rolling a ball of poop, hit the brakes!
All creatures deserve our respect and protection. Please do your best to look out for animals, great and small, when you take your next drive. You never know who might be watching you roll by!
Have you ever seen a really cool animal crossing sign? Let us know in the comments below!