Estonia's endangered flying squirrels continue to need protection

Flying squirrel.
Flying squirrel. Source: Rainar Kurbel

The number of flying squirrels in Estonia has doubled over the last decade, but the creatures still require special protection, experts say.

Flying squirrels were named the animal of the year for 2023. They can be found in Estonia, Finland, Russia, Belarus, Japan, China, and Korea.

Their numbers greatly decreased in Estonia over the last century and today they are only spotted in forests in Lääne- and Ida-Viru counties. But there are still only around 100 in the wild.

Liisa Rennel, an expert at the Environment Agency, told Wednesday's "Terevision" that the situation is mixed. While some areas have seen improvements and the repopulation of old habitats, declines can also be noticed.

"This spring, it had to be acknowledged that the area between Mustvee and Avinurme is virtually empty of flying squirrels," she said. 

It is hoped that newly created protection areas maintained by the State Forest Management Center (RMK) will help increase their numbers.

The creatures can be seen by the new educational trail at Alutagus National Park, but there is little chance of seeing them.

"It's not easy, but if you're lucky you might see them. They are normally nocturnal, they move around during the day when the mother feeds her young and goes to find food or when the young are becoming independent and exploring the area on their own," she said.

Repopulation of previously uninhabited areas gives conservationists hope that the number of flying squirrels has stopped falling and is now on the rise.

Experts say this depends not only on protecting areas where they nest but also on maintaining feeding areas and sufficiently wide forest corridors.

These are necessary because the flying squirrel, which is shy of humans and mainly active at night, can only move around by gliding from tree to tree.


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Editor: Sandra Saar, Helen Wright

Source: "Terevisioon", interviewer Juhan Kilumets

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