European Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus citellus)
The European Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus citellus) had belonged in the past in the Czech Republic to common mammal species of lowlands and lower uplands. In the second half of the 20th century, however, a fast decrease in its abundance has been recorded: in 2005 only 28 sites of the European Ground Squirrel were found in the Czech Republic. Most of the recorded populations were isolated ones with a very low abundance, these facts alone indicating the threat by extinction. Since, at the same time, Spermophilus citellus as a species has met the criteria of an appropriate candidate for an Action Plan to be implemented, the ANCLP of the CR initiated in 2005 the elaboration of an Action Plan for the European Ground Squirrel.
The main goal of the Action Plan is to preserve the European Ground Squirrel in the Czech Republic in the wild. Several measures with different priorities are planned in order to reach this goal:
- Ensuring habitat management in sites of the European Ground Squirrel – high priority. Ensuring regular management (mowing, grazing) is an absolutely vital prerequisite for the implementation of the Action Plan. Measures are carried out in agreement with the land owners (tenants), and by utilizing available grants.
- Monitoring the state of population status – high priority. Monitoring of populations helps in observation of the species abundance within different populations, but also in control of biotopes and the state of management in certain habitats.
- Elaborating a catalogue of sites potentially suitable for the European Ground Squirrel – medium priority. This measure serves in selection of suitable habitats for a prospective repatriation. The sites and their habitats will be evaluated based on different criteria, such as suitability of the present biotope, degree of isolation of the site and existing property-legal relations.
- Experimental confirmation of possibilities of artificial breeding and repatriation methods – medium priority. Artificial or semi-natural breeds should serve as a source of individuals for prospective repatriation projects. The experience of the neighbouring countries evidently shows that to establish a new population of this rodent a large number of individuals is necessary. At the same time, to remove too many animals from any of the existing populations would be, due to their small size, impossible.
- Research – high priority. This mostly entails an addition of missing information about demography, genetic variability and animal parasites of the European Ground Squirrel in the Czech Republic.
- Education and communication – medium priority. The European Ground Squirrel is being positively perceived by the public at large: the times when it was regarded as a big agricultural pest are long gone. Education should be focused mostly on the owners and tenants of lands where the ground squirrel occurs, in order to avoid the problems caused by ignorance of the principles of ground squirrel habitat management.
The Action Plan was approved by the Ministry of the Environment in March 2008, and some of the measures are already being implemented. An emphasis is placed on ensuring the habitat management in different sites. A short period of that implementation in progress, however, does not allow an evaluation or conclusions to be made about the efficiency of ongoing activities carrying out different measures.