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A sleepy guy who naps most of his life. Builder of burrows with several exits. A cousin of the squirrel and the groundhog. The European ground squirrel is an unusual species that became extinct in Poland at the end of the previous century. The Żubr Fund helps restore its population.
In Poland we have a saying „to sleep like a souslik”, but hardly anyone knows how the fate of this charming rodent turned out in our country. In the 1970s, the European ground squirrel, also called souslik, became an extinct species in Poland.
For years, attempts have been made to rebuild its population. Ground squirrels, brought from Slovakia and Hungary, are breeding in captivity, and then are moved to their natural habitat. Such initiatives are carried out by the partner of the Żubr Fund – the Polish Society for Nature Conservation „Salamandra”. The program is a success – the population of the European ground squirrel is gradually growing. Today there are approximately 1 500 individuals.
However, the species is still critically endangered. It still requires the help of biologists and, above all, new places where it could live, breed, feed and be protected. That is why the Żubr Fund – in cooperation with the „Salamandra” Society – supports, among other things, the purchase of land where the new colonies of the European ground squirrel would live.
The umbrella species
Ground squirrels do best in vast meadows, pastures, and fallow lands. As a result of intensive farming and transforming wastelands for investment, such open areas are disappearing. When a large grassland is divided, turned into farmland or a forest, when roads or buildings appear, these squirrels have nowhere to go, and they die out. Additionally, in the previous century these species were exterminated as rodents considered pests.
Meanwhile, European ground squirrels are animals that do not come into conflict with humans. They are a so-called umbrella species – by protecting it, we also protect other organisms associated with dry grasslands such as rare species of plants, insects, reptiles and birds.
Each ground squirrel has its own burrow, but lives in a colony. In case of danger, it warns other individuals with a loud whistle, and they all run to their shelters.
Star-shaped paths lead to entrances of the burrows. They remain cleared of any obstacles that might slow down the escape. Each burrow has several exits, often several meters apart. In the event of an intruder entering their underground home, these squirrels can quickly block the corridor with soil and exit in a different place.
Sleep well, souslik
Does the European ground squirrel, as the saying goes, „sleep like a souslik „? Indeed, representatives of this type of rodent sleep more than half of the day and during periods of inclement weather. They start their winter sleep as early as mid-August. Before hibernation, they store fat in their bodies and line the underground den with fragrant herbs. They wake up at the end of March or as late as April. On the surface, they look for food: green parts of plants, flowers, insects and their favorite: seeds (the Latin name genus spermophilus means „seed-loving”).
The new sites for the European ground squirrel, which will be created thanks to the support of the Żubr Fund, will provide these animals with ideal living conditions: a peaceful environment, away from noisy roads, with natural meadow vegetation. These areas will not be closed off. With a bit of luck, you will be able to observe the life of this rare species through binoculars. Unless they are sleeping …