Suslik repatriation in Kiskunság NP
In summer 2013, we repatriated about 200 susliks into an area in Kiskunság National Park that had used to be land for crop production, but it was restored as a grassland in frame of a conservation project of Kiskunság National Park Directorate (KNPD). The recent conservation status of the area is very good, in some parts being already very similar to natural grassland. When deciding on the location of the repatriation, ground water level was also considered to prevent later problem. On the chosen location, there are extensive grasslands on higher ground (further away from ground water) that can ensure safe dormant period for susliks. Another important criterium was the long-term sustainability of grassland management by grazing or mowing, in order to provide short grass vegetation for the animals. The location is sfae, undisturbed and managed by KNPD thus protection and conservation of susliks in the area is ensured. The repatriation was encouraged by the telling local names like „Suslik-hill land” that refers to the time when susliks had inhabited the area, before the farmers' association ploughed it.
The susliks were trapped in Kecskemét Air Base and Budapest Airport, by using apple. They were transported from that area to their new home.
The core area for repatriation was a 4 hectare mown grassland. We had drilled 200 holes previously, and we released the susliks into them, one to one. As soon as the susliks were released, we plugged holes with empty bottles. This procedure was necessary to calm down the animals (until they try to get out) and prevent them to run away. We fenced the core area with a thick net to slow down temporarily the dispersal of susliks. The core area and its neighbourhood was guarded from the first release until the fifth day after the last release to keep away mammal and avian predators. During that time period, susliks can dig a system of holes, where they are already able to hide properly.
Suslik is an important prey for Saker Falcon. If the repatriation is successful, and the new suslik population increases, it is likely that Sakers – along with other rare species like Imperial Eagle, Long-legged Buzzard or Booted Eagle – will appear for hunting during dispersal and migration period. Should the suslik colony become big enough, even a Saker pair can settle nearby that bases its breeding on local susliks.
Recently, the repatriation can be considered successful. We ensure the favourable conservation status by grazing. Susliks have started to inhabit the areas on higher ground and we find new holes 200-300 m away from the core area. The colony has started to spread and conquer new areas. Susliks in smaller number can be seen on the surface moving and foraging, but the number of holes and tracks in the grass indicated that they are present in a larger number. However, only in spring, the number of individuals waking up from dormancy and digging new holes will indicate, how successful the repatriation has been.
We are very grateful for the help we received from the colleagues of Kecskemét Air Base and Budapest Airport.
Kiskunsági National Park Directorate