Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Take action to save the endangered Flying Squirrel

Flying squirrel - a mysterious and hidden taiga forest dweller - is still one of Estonia's nature tourism magnets. In favourable circumstances it is still possible to be in the right time in the right place and have a glimpse of this tiny and zippy creature. No need to add, that a knowledgeable zooloogist is a must to guide the event. Moreover - because of being endangered, observation and being close to Flying Squirrels' nesting sites is only allowed together with a local expert. To understand the life of a Flying Squirrel each and every group is taken to the forest stand some hours before the outflight takes place. The guide will explain the situation, show the group around the habitat and point out the distinctive features, how to monitor the animals. Only then, a tad before darkness everyone has to be under the right tree with the binoculars or camera lenses directed towards the nest opening. Luckily the guide has the detector, which gives alert when the collared animal starts moving.

Zooloogist Uudo Timm pinpointing with detector 
Flying Squirrels, Iisaku 2014

Now, what are the preconditions of the species? The female needs a territory at least 8 hectares. For nesting there have to be old hollow aspens, surrounded and screened by spruce trees. Males are usually active in several females' territories, all together on about 100 hectares. Throughout this radius of 1 km there must be old mixed forest stands to ensure food and safety. Young animals usually move away from their homes up to 2 km. All this means, that the stand must be much bigger, than merely these 100 hectares, otherwise in the isolated conditions the population doesn't function normally.

Droppings of Flying Squirrel, Iisaku 2014

Flying squirrel's distribution area is constantly decreasing. The species has definitely been much more common, than it is today. Distribution data, available from the 1930ies show 3 large and 3 medium or small distribution areas all over Estonia. South-Estonian localities were extinct by 1995. In 2005 there were still some evidence from SW and NW Estonia, but the data from 2014 reveal only the North-Eastern population. Regardless of still remarkable area on the map, we may speak only about 110 registered sites and maximum 2 sq km of suitable forest stands. Sadly not all of these sites are constantly populated.

Click on the diagram to zoom...

The main, if not the only reason of this decrease is forest cutting, which is intruding into the reign of these harmless creatures and consequently one side has to beat a retreat, even without any serious conflict. It is not enough to spare only the nesting tree. The whole old forest complex should be untouched. If there is no food or no protection from the enemies, the animals dump their nests. Clear cutting in the adjacent areas causes fragmentation and the habitat will be too small or too scattered.

Photo: Jean Michel Bompar
Estonia, August 2011

One of the hotspots - Iisaku - is a small town in NE Estonia and by now it has earned its relevance as the capital of Estonia's Flying Squirrels' dereasing kingdom. In contrary to most locals, who have never seen Flying squirrels with their own eyes, the head of the regional forest department declares that throughout all the 40 years, she has been living in Iisaku, these animals have always been there. Mutual relationships of humans and the squirrels have been if not friendly, then at least neutral, as expected. Moreover - some eagle-eyed hikers sware they have accidentally seen gliding Flying squirrels from the popular watchtower next to the park forest stand in Iisaku.

Photo: Jean Michel Bompar
Estonia, August 2011

In this very critical situation all relevant scientists, monitoring and conservation workers, environmental NGO-s  and nature tourism companies must join into one solid force to provide this cute animal the presumption of innocence and to protect its home among us. It is hard to overestimate the importance of Estonian Fund for Nature in the work, that has been done during the latest decades, as they have been the initiators and the flagship of the investigations and protection activities in Estonia.

ELF had the negotiations with local private forest owners
in June 2015. ENT attended this meeting as well.
Photo: Jaanus Remm

How you can help a Flying Squirrel?

It is simple!
On behalf of every person joining ENT on the Mammals and Birds in Estonia tour,  a donation of  25 Euros is made to this project as ENT feels it is extremely important for the future of this delightful animal. 

Estonian Nature Tours has supported the Flying Squirrel project since 2010, having launched a donation campaign to raise money to buy necessary flying squirrel reasearch equipment. With the help of this research Flying Squirrel may have a chance to increase the population number, which would be most definitely a delight for everyone to see.

ENT is very grateful to everyone who have supported the Flying Squirrel with us:

Mr Hall, Mr Abrehart, Mr Lock, Mr and Mrs Green, Ms Hallam, Ms Peterkin, Mr Wilds, Ms Wright, Mr Webb, Mr Hewson, Mr McNiven, Mr O´Connor, Ms Lynam, Ms King, Mr July, Mr Norman, Mr Haynes, Mr Mark, Mrs Devlin, Ms Joy, Ms Hunter, Mr Atkins, Ms Behenna, Mr Higson, Ms Compton, Ms Dean, Ms Reeves, Mr Sykes, Mr Bompar, Ms Aldridge, Mr Aldridge, Mr and Mrs Hughes, Mr and Mrs Obergassel, Mr and Mrs Robinson, Mr Lambelin, Mr Lambrechts, Mr Boczek, Mrs Jadot, Mrs Duverne, Mrs Williams, Mr van der Dol, Mr Law, Mr Dyett, Mr Brimson, Mr Hows, Mr Thissen, Mr Witkamp, Mr and Mrs Baldock, Mr Knight, Mr Woodhouse, Mr Wright, Mr and Mrs Parker, Mr Victor, Mrs Beeken, Mr and Mrs Free, Ms McKenzie-Lloyd, Ms Morten, Mr Summerfield, Mr and Mrs Baltera, Mr Pilbeam, Mr Dean, Ms Percival, Ms Newell, Mr Moore, Mr Simpson, Mr Peter, Mr Meredith, Mr Wallington, Mr Williams, Mr and Mrs Higginbotham, Mr and Mrs Williams, Mr and Mrs Gange, Mr and Mrs Buck, Ms Alderson, Mr Lyons, Mrs Scarnera, Mrs Vuillemier, Mr and Mrs Evard, Mr Frauche, Mr Lorimer, Mr Gigon, Mr Meier, Mr and Mrs Grosvernier, Mr Jeanneret, Mrs Minier, Mr Fallot, Mr and Mrs Hale, Ms Kelly, Mr Palm, Mr Cooper, Mr and Mrs Knight, Mr and Mrs Jones, Ms Freed, Mrs Hall, Mrs Montgomery, Mr Gordon.

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