"Prague Squirrel" project invites children to count squirrels in parks


The European red squirrel used to be plentiful in the Czech lands, to the extent that they were seen as a menace: hunters were allowed to shoot them as they caused damage to vegetation. In the 1970s experts noticed that the numbers of squirrels in the countryside had dropped. Since then it appears that the species converged on towns where they adapted to life in parks and are often fed by people.

Zoologists would now like to confirm that hypothesis by first comparing the incidence of squirrels in the Czech capital and a forest in the Czech-Moravian Highlands in the east of the country. To get as many people involved in the counting as possible, the organisation Ornita whose aim is to educate children about nature and the environment, came up with a squirrel-watching project. I earlier spoke to Ornita's Veronika Voldrichova.

"The project started this year. It has five stages. First of all, we organise lectures about the life of the squirrel and why it is protected. Then we tell the children how they can help. At the same time children are encouraged to make drawings, paintings, photos, and even videos of squirrels which will be presented at an exhibition next spring along with the first result of the monitoring."

The organisation has approached primary and secondary schools in Prague in order to cover the whole area of the Czech capital. Experts first explain the topic to children and teachers. For those kids who are really interested in the subject, they organise follow-up programmes, such as day trips. All children - and not only them - are then encouraged to report to the organisation when they encounter a squirrel in Prague.

"The fastest way is to send a text message from the spot, specifying the address and other details, including the colour of the animal. Or, on our website, there is an aerial map and they can click on the exact spot where they observed the squirrel. Also, there will be questionnaires in schools, which they can fill out and post to us. We hope we will get enough data so the monitoring will be comprehensive."

The organisers also hope to find partners in other European countries who might be involved in a similar project, so they could compare the results within Europe and start some kind of exchange project.

More information at: www.ornita.cz