Unlike the other species that make up the Sciuridae family, banned for sale in September 2010, the Siberian Chipmunk, also known as Korean squirrel, had been suspended for almost 6 years. However, since July 2016, the prohibition also applies to him: prohibited to acquire, hold, sell or breed individuals of this species, and this throughout Europe.
Who is the Korean squirrel?
It is a small squirrel, coming from Korea, hence its vernacular name. Measuring approximately 15 cm, plus 10 to 12 cm of tail, weighing an adult around 100 g, it can be recognized by the five symmetrically distributed stripes of brown-black color marking its light ocher-gray back lengthwise.
Females give birth between 1 and 2 litters / year, each comprising between 3 and 4 young. It hibernates from October to March. It is a vegetarian with an omnivorous tendency that mainly consumes seeds, dried fruits and tree buds, supplemented by mushrooms, berries and flowers. It may also occasionally eat arthropods, insects, molluscs, amphibians and reptiles.
Popular as a New Pet (NAC) from the 1960s, it gradually went out of fashion, especially as the animal turned out to be poor companionship, reluctant to be handled and biting easily. and painfully. The animal is of fragile bones, its bones break easily, its heart can beat nearly 300 beats per minute in young individuals and it dies easily from stress.
Abandoned by their owners, weary of their high level of activity, their shrill cries and the difficulty of taming them, squirrels have developed in territories favorable to their development. A time suspected of competing with the red squirrel, this has not been confirmed insofar as it exploits an ecological niche different from that of the latter.
Of the 25 populations listed in Europe, 11 are present in France. It is found more in areas where it can find acorns in the fall. There are a few predators there: the domestic cat, the common buzzard and the European weasel. But they alone are not capable of limiting populations.
Why ban the Korean squirrel?
Since July 13, 2016, the Korean squirrel has been considered an Invasive Alien Species (IAS), of concern at European level because it has turned out to represent a real danger to human health.
Indeed, it harbors three bacteria responsible for Lyme disease or borreliosis (Borrelia afzelli, burgdorferi and garinii), while local species of forest rodents and birds only harbor one. And studies have shown that the infection of Korea’s squirrel population ranges from 35 to 75 percent, depending on the year.
It has therefore become more than necessary to act to limit its introduction and manage the populations already present in the territory. It ended up being banned for sale in pet stores and on the Internet because the efforts already made to contain the situation were dashed by reintroductions due to abandonment or escapes from farms.
Undoubtedly possessing a physique capable of seducing lovers of small furry animals – a thin, slightly elongated muzzle, large black eyes, medium ears and tail covered with very soft-looking hair – this species has nevertheless proved to be, well despite it is an effective vehicle for Lyme disease. Because the squirrel is covered with ticks, a single individual can carry more than 500. And more than one in two Korean squirrels carries the disease.
Reflecting on the possibilities of intervention, the scientists evaluated the perception of the species by the users of the forest. In 2007, a survey was carried out in Ile-de-France. She revealed that park managers and officers had a rather negative view of the species, helping to accept the idea of radical management intervention. Strollers surprisingly did not come out as favorably in favor of the Korean squirrel as common sense might have suggested. Indeed, they preferred the red squirrel and easily accepted the idea of radical control of the species, as soon as it proved invasive. Finally, only Korean squirrel owners were opposed to any eradication intervention, even if the animal represented a public health danger, calling for limiting any possible operations to capture followed by sterilization. However, as populations may represent more than 10,000 individuals in certain forests in Ile-de-France, such actions, albeit more gentle, proved ineffective and too costly.
An operation to eradicate the Korean squirrel organized in 2018 in the town of Echirolles (Isère) showed the difficulty of eradicating populations already installed and highlighted the need to act as quickly as possible after the identification of a new presence of the animal.
However, the Korean squirrel does not adapt everywhere, as demonstrated by the evolution of a population accidentally introduced in 1969 at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. The original 400 animals eventually declined to disappear in 1977.
Lyme disease is transmitted by the bite of an infected tick. The bites can occur during a walk in the forest, in a meadow or in a garden, public or private.
This disease is not always symptomatic. The course is generally favorable provided the disease is diagnosed and treated early. A two week course of antibiotics is generally recommended. In the absence of treatment, joint, neurological or skin disorders can set in for a long time.
The best prevention against this disease is:
- to put on long clothes covering arms and legs before a nature activity,
- to carefully inspect the body after the activity, with particular attention to the armpits, the folds of the elbows and knees.
If a tick is present on the body, it must be removed using a tick puller, the only instrument capable of removing the entire insect without breaking the head.
The stung area should then be monitored for a month. If a red, round plaque develops from the stung area, it is essential to see a doctor immediately. Flu-like symptoms in summer are also never a good sign and should prompt you to consult.