30 August, 2019
Where else do Belarusian sousliks live?
In May, the environmental initiative of the NGO “Akhova ptushak Baskaўshchiny” was launched to search for populations of a hamster, speckled souslik and flying squirrel. And already managed to find several souslik colonies.
A year ago, scientists did not know a single place of residence of speckled souslik in Belarus. Three small colonies in the Karelichsky district were either plowed up or ceased to exist for an unknown reason.
It was possible to find new souslik colonies thanks to the ecological initiative of the APB «Hamster, Souslik and Flying Squirrel: Save Super Rodents!», implemented within the «Ecomonitoring» project, funded by the European Union and implemented by the UNDPin partnership with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection of the Republic of Belarus.
APB experts Sergei Shokalo, Yuri Yankevich and Andrei Abramchuk, with the help of the local population and as a result of searches, managed to find ten souslik colonies. Most of them are concentrated around Nesvizh, but there are sousliks in the Stolbtsovsky and Kopylsky districts. According to preliminary estimates, about a thousand sousliks live in the largest of them.
“I believe that this speckled ground squirrel colony is our national treasure,” said Sergey Shokalo. “We pushed back sousliks so much from their original habitats that we must keep them on this site.” If measures are not taken today, we may lose them. To protect the sousliks, tight security is needed. It is not enough just to draw up passports and security obligations, it is necessary to visit the territories almost every day and see what is being done there. We need awareness raising in places where there are sousliks, constant trips and monitoring — then this will be real help.
The animals live on old trodden pastures where they feed on grass. Animals go to grain fields to feast on the showered grain, but do not cause significant damage to field breeders.
During the Soviet Union, these cute, gullible rodents were constantly harassed for winter crops. Since the 1960s, their number in Belarus has declined by 90%. This species is included in the national Red Book, and the species has a conservation status in the International Red List. There are enough enemies for sousliks among predators: foxes, dogs, loonies, storks, buzzards, crows, eagles, cats prey on them.
Today, the main threat to the sousliks’s survival continues to come from humans: plowing the meadows, fertilizing them (animals can’t notice the predator from the thick and high vegetation in time), poisons and chemicals.
The fact that we still have sousliks is good news. Without preserving the traditional way of using the land, their colony may disappear completely. It is especially dangerous if the land is plowed open in late autumn or early spring, when the animals are in hibernation and cannot move anywhere. It may also happen that due to the lack of mowing and grazing of cattle or small cattle, the upland meadows, where the gophers live, will overgrow, then the gophers will disappear. These steppe rodents do not like high humidity and thick grass.
Alexander Vinchevsky, director of APB, says: “This summer was the first time I saw a live speckled souslik. I was delighted with the mimicry of these animals, not inferior in their artistry to the famous meerkats. Sousliks could become a tourism brand of the Nesvizh region along with the Radziwill castle. Many domestic and foreign tourists would love to get acquainted with this attractive, but little-known rodent, would buy souvenirs with his image. Working with tourists could be a good extra income for local residents, and perhaps sousliks could help create new jobs. ”
To preserve sousliks in Belarus, it is necessary to find as many of their colonies as possible, as well as attract local activists who are interested in preserving them. If you are aware of the possible habitats of the speckled ground squirrel, please contact the APB at: email@example.com, 80291016887, 80292230613.
How to detect a souslik colony?
Locations of gophers are found by characteristic burrows. Near the temporary burrows (diameter of about 5.5 cm) there is always a mound of discarded land, while the souslik deepens them. Well-marked paths diverge from the hole. At the colony of the watchman, standing up in a column, vigilantly inspect the surroundings.
Reference. The initiative “Hamster, souslik and flying squirrel: save super rodents!” Is being implemented by APB in partnership with the Gorodok forestry, the Ecological and Local Lore Public Association “Nerush” and the Scientific and Practical Center of Biological Resources of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus.
Contact person — Semyon Levy, 8 (029) 101-68-87, firstname.lastname@example.org
Non-governmental organization «Akhova Ptushak Baskaўshchyny» (APB) is the largest environmental public organization in Belarus and since 2005 is the National partner of the global environmental association BirdLife International, which includes organizations from 121 countries. APB has more than 2500 members, volunteers and supporters, 100 school clubs and 14 local branches throughout the country. The organization works to preserve biodiversity and to join the population