Oak, the animal of the year laRegione.ch

The oak (Eliomys quercinus), a micro-mammal of the Glideridae family, has been selected as the Pro Natura 2022 ambassador of wild forests and natural landscapes. This agile nocturnal rat spends hibernation between November and April and is very active during the rest of the year. Oak resembles Dormouse, its older and more familiar cousin.

However, it has its own distinctive features. He has a black mask on his nose like Zorro. And like the elusive executioners, Pro Natura’s Animal of the Year has a lot of hidden talent. The habitat of these tender rats is a diverse forest rich in dead wood, hollow stems, rocky material and shrubs, which is now rare in Switzerland. Until a few decades ago, the oak tree found an alternative environment to its liking, even outside the forest, full of gardens, hedges and granaries that are readily available in rural landscapes. As farming has become more intensive, the areas where he feels comfortable have declined dramatically. With the Beast of 2022, Pro Natura is calling for more wild wood and a more natural rural landscape.

Little Zorro

Present in large parts of Europe from the plains to the mountains, it feels comfortable in the most diverse environments. As a nocturnal rat, it has keen eyesight, excellent hearing and effective vibrissa. Oak admires omnivores, snails and other rats, but it also likes buds, fruits and nuts. In turn it is a treat that is admired by hunters such as the owl, the fox, the marten or the wild cat. In the fall he eats as much food as possible to build up fat levels that allow him to escape the cold where he falls during the cold winter months and which prevents him from waking up only for a short time. At this point, you can lose up to half your weight. After hibernation, Oak’s life resumed at full capacity. Awakening in April coincides with the mating season. After about three weeks of gestation, the female gives birth – in a round nest of algae, leaves, grass and feathers – to 4 to 6 babies. After the first month of exclusive breastfeeding, young babies begin to follow their mother and explore the surroundings.

The small family broke up a few weeks later. A species with all these characteristics should be widespread and frequent, but the opposite is true. Oak is on the world red list. Its main numbers are declining, a trend also seen in Switzerland. According to Geneva zoologist Victor Fatio, oak was present in all parts of Switzerland in the 19th century. Today we find it almost exclusively in parts of the western Jura and the Alps, including Tikino.

Wanted accommodation

The 2022 animal is only present in Europe and its habitat is under threat. Fossil findings show that oaks lived in Central Europe about two million years ago. The Ice Age has reduced its habitat in the forests of the western Mediterranean region. With rising temperatures and the return of vegetation, it has again spread to Central Europe. An interesting detail: During resettlement in Europe, populations with different number of chromosomes were born, some 48, others 50, 52 or even 54. These differences keep the population isolated from each other. However, a common character remains: the jungle in its natural state, where the oak tree finds everything it wants. The roots and stems provide numerous hiding places and safe places to hibernate. Tree cavities allow children to be kept safe. Deadwood provides a rich world of insects for a varied diet. In autumn, beech and acorns are the main course of the feast which allows you to store fat due to winter. Unfortunately, this type of wood has become very rare. Oak has been able to survive by finding a partial alternative to the traditional rural landscape. Woodland pastures, tall gardens and a landscape full of hedges, bushes, gardens and small structures provide a good habitat for rats. In recent decades, however, these environments have gradually disappeared in large parts of Europe, including Switzerland. Preserving the wild forests and the environment rich in species and structures has therefore become essential for the survival of the animals by 2022.

On the tail of the oak

There is relatively little information about the spread of oak in Switzerland, which complicates its conservation. Through the activities “In the Signs of the Oak Tree”, Pro Natura invites the public to keep their eyes open, build tunnels for the track, and report animal sightings in 2022. It is a “participatory science” project in which everyone can participate individually and as a group. To the south of the Alps, the species is not very present, but it is found across the Suprasenari at an altitude of 800 m.

How to participate? Create a footprint tunnel (you can find the full instructions here www.pronatura.ch) Then: Place the tunnel 1-2 m above the ground, on a branch of a hedge or grove, especially with berry-producing shrubs. If you have a cottage or you frequently go to the mountains, place your tunnels in the woods at a height of 800 meters, you will have a better chance of finding the oak tree. Also: Check once a week if any animals have gone through the tunnel. If you find footprints in your tunnel, fill out the form (available on the Pro Natura website) and send the original sheets with the footprint to Pro Natura. Experts will try to identify the species. Finally: Pro Natura will send you the e-mail identification results as soon as possible. By the end of 2022, a map of Switzerland with data obtained from various fingerprints obtained will be published. At Tikino you can report encounters with micro-mammals by sending photos or videos to the e-mail address: quercino@pronatura.ch.

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