Over the weekend we started with capture of ground squirrels at the Bratislava airport, these days we are continuing in the Slovak Kras and the Muránska planina will follow.
From these three localities, where the ground squirrel colonies are the strongest and most genetically variable, we will then support the smaller living colonies and help them.
At the airport over the weekend, capture was carried out from its peripheral parts. We focused on the ground squirrels that try to run out of the airport and try to colonize the surrounding fields, where, due to plowing and use of chemicals, they unfortunately end up every year before they have time to settle down.
Since the population of squirrels at the airport is large and genetic research carried out by ZOO Bojnice in cooperation with TU Zvolen has shown that it is also diverse and stable, we decided to relocate some of individuals to other locations in Slovakia. On the contrary, in most Slovak localities there are few individuals, the populations are genetically poor and there is inbreeding ongoing, which causes various diseases and genetic defects in these populations. By capturing and bringing „new blood“ to such locations, we add new genes to these colonies, stabilize them, and in the following years we expect an increase in the number of individuals in these populations.
The status of ground squirrel populations in Slovakia has declined dramatically over the past 70 years. In the past, several million ground squirrels lived on the territory of Slovakia, the colonies were numerous, made up of many families. They were only a few kilometers apart of each other, so interbreeding between them was functioning. Nowadays, however, the landscape looks differently, it is made up of huge rows of fields and grazing has stopped. The nearest colonies are 30 to 70 km from the Bratislava airport, only a few dozen ground squirrels live in them, and potential migration corridors are divided by highways, roads and farmed land.
Ground squirrels have no chance to find each other naturally.
The main reason of the ground squirrel decline in the past was the loss of grazing in open country, because they need short grasslands, with plenty of insects and flowering plants, which are best created and maintained by grazing. That’s also why the airport area, which is regularly mowed, serves as its replacement habitat.
There are populations of 5,000 and 3,000 individuals on the Muránska planina and the Slovak Kras, which make them the second two largest locations after the Bratislava airport. We also catch ground squirrels here and transport ground squirrels from them to the surrounding locations so that they can mate there already this year and thus strengthen their genetics.