The popularity of squirrels has waxed and waned over several centuries. Some people regard them as pests, and others find them entertaining, valuing their presence in a garden. At times, squirrels interfere in people’s lives by causing damage to homes or gardens, eating bird feed, or living in an area where development is planned. As a result, many people feel the humane solution is to trap the squirrels and relocate them to another site. But do squirrels survive relocation, and is this the best method to control them?
Most squirrels do not survive relocation, and the mortality rate may be as high as 97%. Squirrels in new locations need help finding shelter or food and are unfamiliar with local predators. Resident squirrels may be aggressive, and the loss of food stores negatively impacts the squirrel.
There is very little point in relocating animals if they are to die a painful, slow death in the new location. Therefore, it is critical to know whether squirrels survive relocation before starting the process.
We’ll discuss why relocation doesn’t work and some more humane ways of controlling their population.
What Are The Survival Rates For Relocated Squirrels?
A 1994 to 1997 study showed that 97% of Eastern grey squirrels relocated from urban and suburban areas to suitable woodland environments did not survive.
Most died or disappeared and were presumed dead between day 11 and day 88 after the relocation.
A study on the relocation of red squirrels to a squirrel-free forest in Galway, Ireland, had a better success rate. The squirrels were translocated using soft-release enclosures and supplemental feeding for an extended period after the release.
In this Irish study, 5.3% of the red squirrels died during the relocation. However, a follow-up study done in 2007 showed that 68.4% of the squirrels had survived to the following breeding season, and some were reproducing.
Wildlife officials generally accept that relocating squirrels does not have a positive outcome. The survival of single squirrels released in new areas is doubtful.
Stress Affects The Survival Rates Of Relocated Squirrels
A study reported in 2013 showed that grey squirrels show extreme stress response during capture. They rapidly go into shock leading to convulsions, unconsciousness, and death.
Relocated squirrels have high-stress levels from unfamiliarity with the terrain and the struggle to survive. Conservationists believe stress is a significant factor in a relocated squirrel’s ability to adjust to the new environment.
Relocated Squirrels Struggle To Find A Home
One of the reasons relocated squirrels die is that they cannot find appropriate shelter quickly. If a squirrel cannot find adequate shelter, they die from exposure to the elements.
They may get wet and cannot dry or die from cold or heat. Preparing a home for winter hibernation takes considerable time. A squirrel unprepared for winter will die when the cold weather arrives.
Some squirrels have a form of hibernation when it is too hot. They seal themselves in their burrow and wait for cooler weather.
Squirrels without adequate shelter are vulnerable to day and night predators. This will increase their chances of being caught by a predator and increase their stress resulting in poor immunity to diseases.
Squirrels released in soft release programs survive and adjust to the new location better. They are usually moved in a nesting box situated appropriately to protect the squirrel. As a result, the squirrel has less stress and is not exposed to bad weather.
Finding Food Is Challenging For Relocated Squirrels
Squirrels learn to source food in their home range from their parents. Therefore, the knowledge of food sources is multigenerational.
In addition, squirrels have a much larger range than most people expect. They can cover several miles to forage for food that meets their nutritional needs, providing balance to their diets.
When squirrels are relocated without support, they can only search for food in their immediate surroundings.
They need to familiarize themselves with food sources in the area, and too much energy is expended in the search for food.
Squirrels usually lose weight and die of starvation when they are relocated. They may also suffer from nutritional imbalances as they do not know where to find the range of foods they need.
Squirrels store a large food supply that may last one to three years. However, building up this food cache takes time; without it, the squirrel must expend more energy to find food.
When a squirrel has no food cache, foraging for food must be done daily, exposing the squirrel to harsh weather.
Life is much harder for a relocated squirrel.
Squirrels in soft-release programs may be supported by supplemental feeding for up to a year after their release. This allows the squirrels time to identify food sources while receiving a balanced diet.
Unfamiliarity With Predators Makes Squirrels Vulnerable
Squirrels are preyed on by many predators. They must be constantly alert and survive better if they know which predators are in the area.
Most squirrels have a complex warning system to let other squirrels know what predator is present and the approach direction and distance.
A squirrel unfamiliar with the area’s predators is at a disadvantage. The biggest being is that the newly released squirrel does not have the support of a squirrel community or understand the danger warnings and will almost certainly not survive.
Resident Squirrels Compete With Relocated Squirrels
Previously it was thought that if squirrels were resident in an area, it would be an acceptable place to release relocated squirrels. Many private individuals follow this reasoning if they wish to relocate a squirrel.
Resident squirrels compete with the relocated squirrels for food sources and shelter. Some squirrel species are territorial and hostile conflicts between the resident and relocated squirrels erupt.
Many squirrels are severely injured and die from septicemia or because they are too injured to forage for food.
Resident squirrels may have immunity to diseases that the relocated squirrel does not possess. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. The result is that relocated squirrels can become infected or infect the resident population with diseases that may prove fatal.
Should Squirrels Be Relocated?
Conservationists and scientists agree that relocating squirrels should not be undertaken lightly. People who wish to get rid of nuisance squirrels should not live trap and relocate them as the squirrels will die, often slowly and painfully.
Large-scale squirrel relocation projects done by conservation groups need to be done with extended support for the squirrels.
Soft-release habitats must be established to allow the squirrels to access shelter and food until they establish themselves. Unfortunately, even with support, many squirrels die during relocation.
A Look At More Humane Ways to Control Squirrel Populations
As mentioned above, there are better options than relocation for nuisance squirrels.
Below are some more humane methods of controlling squirrel populations:
1. Humane traps – These traps should be used humanely to trap and remove squirrels from an area. The animals can then be relocated to a more suitable habitat.
2. Fencing – Installing a secure fence around gardens and other areas where squirrels are causing damage will help keep them away. This is an excellent long-term solution for keeping squirrels out of an area.
3. Repellents – There are a variety of repellent sprays and other products that can be used to discourage squirrels from entering an area. However, these should only be used as a last resort, as they may not be effective in all circumstances.
4. Plantings – Planting trees that repel squirrels or that squirrels do not like can help keep them away.
5. Removal of food sources – Removing the food sources that attract squirrels is vital to reducing the number of animals in an area. This includes ensuring garbage lids are tightly
6. Education – Educating people on the importance of wildlife, particularly squirrels, can help to reduce human-wildlife conflicts. Many states, such as; Mississippi, offer homeowners educational materials on the proper way to deal with wildlife.
There are more humane solutions, such as eviction, proofing, and deterrents, which all work to make the area less attractive to squirrels and encourage them to move on without resorting to trapping and relocation.
Relocating squirrels is a complex, challenging process. It should not be carried out lightly, as the relocated squirrel will almost certainly die. It is far better to use humane solutions, such as deterrents and removal of food sources, than it is to trap and relocate squirrels.
Educating people on the importance of wildlife can also help reduce human-wildlife conflicts. With patience, understanding, and respect for our natural environment, we can effectively manage squirrel populations without resorting to cruel methods.
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