The Emilia Romagna Region recently announced that it will eradicate all gray squirrels from its territory, killing them with gas. An extreme solution to eliminate an alien and invasive species that threatens the native red squirrel, vegetation, some species of birds and crops. But is extermination the only way forward? We talked about it with Massimo Vitturi, national manager of LAV Wild Animals. Here’s what he told us.
In recent days, the Emilia Romagna Region announced the launch of the eradication of the North American gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) from its own territory, to be carried out by catching with traps ed euthanasia directly on the spot. Trapped rodents are caught and killed inside containers filled with carbon dioxide (CO2). This extreme solution was taken since the gray squirrel is one alien and invasive species, included in the list of the hundred most problems in the world by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). It is a serious threat especially to him red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) autochthonous, which occupying the same ecological niche and being smaller and weaker, succumbs to the rival introduced by man (the real responsible for the ecological damage). The gray squirrel can also pose a significant problem for vegetation, some bird species and crops, so a solution is needed. Some regions have found it cruel extermination with gas: but is this really the only way forward? We talked about it with Massimo Vitturi, national responsible for LAV Wild animals. Here’s what he told us.
The decision of Emilia Romagna to eliminate all gray squirrels with gas has raised a hive of controversy, between in favor of and against eradication. What does your association think?
Obviously we are opposed to these forms of extermination, which unfortunately still take place at European and national level for other species such as the nutria. What we have always asked for for these species that are considered alien and invasive, in terms of the European regulation, is that non-lethal methods be used. Given that it is stated that they are alien and invasive because they cause damage to habitats or activities, it must also be taken into account that the European regulation provides for these animals, once identified as alien / invasive species (this is the definition), that they can be removed by lethal or non-lethal methods. The problem is that no one spends, apart from associations like LAV, to identify what non-lethal methods are. And therefore in fact in the end we always proceed with lethal and bloody methods, therefore with the killing. We are strongly opposed to these bloody eradication activities and for this reason we ask and continue to ask for the funding of studies for the development of the immunocontraceptive vaccine.
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At the moment, whatever people read about it, it still doesn’t exist. That is, it exists but is not usable because it exists in a formulation that is injectable. It is obvious that it is unthinkable to be able to inject the contraceptive by running after all the gray squirrels. We as LAV strongly focus on funding studies to perfect this immunocontraceptive drug and make it available and administrable through food baits. This would be the best solution. They’re working on it. I am in contact with the UK staff working on this oral vaccine, which will be administered through the hazelnut cream when the drug becomes available. But at the moment it is still in experimentation. It’s all about the money, an injection of funds would be needed. As for the injectable vaccine, a problem related to the injection site was overcome, where adverse reactions developed in the gray squirrel, so they continued their studies and overcame the problem. But as far as the drug that can be administered orally is concerned, they are still working on it. In fact it is not available, but that is the direction. Administrations must commit to this, it is the only way out. This is what we as an association ask for and support. Since the European regulation stipulates that non-lethal methods can be used, well, let’s work to find these non-lethal methods and to develop them. There are promising studies so let’s go down that road there, fund and use these systems.
Who do you contact?
We asked the Ministry of Ecological Transition (MITE) to provide a funding line for the development of this drug, which would solve the problems not only of the gray squirrel, but for any animal. We think of wild boars, for which the device to be used for food baits has already been studied. For all wild species that are considered problematic, which arise from human-animal interaction, from our point of view a solution can be found with the use of these systems. For other systems we have seen that it is only a matter of spilled blood, copious – let’s see the nutrie example – which does not lead to the solution. For more on issues that are the responsibility of man. American gray squirrels are not swimming from America. If they are doing “damage” the responsibility is not theirs, but the man. Of those human beings who for decades have profited from the shoulders of these squirrels and now no one calls into question to pay. Although the European regulation on alien / invasive species referred to above is based on the “polluter pays” principle. That is, whoever creates the damage is then the responsible one who has to pay to recover the environmental damage. So, from our point of view, responsible people should have to pay: in the case of nutria, furriers and breeders, in the case of gray squirrels, all those sellers of pets, pets, who have been importing and selling for years. a disproportionate number of these animals. Considering an animal a tinsel, something to take possession of and take home then has these consequences. And what we say is that animals must be left alone to be animals.
Given that the problem of gray squirrels has been known for a long time, that the red squirrel is in danger of extinction and that it may take some time for the oral vaccine to be commercialized, he does not believe that the authorities are “cornered” and have therefore decided to opt for it. for eradication? In the sense, either we save our native species or we allow the non-native one to make it extinct.
There is the European regulation that imposes actions for animals that are included, after a risk assessment, in the so-called Union list of alien / invasive species. Also included in this list are the nutria, the gray squirrel and the Trachemys, the red cheeked baby turtles and so on. For these species, the European regulation imposes a series of eradication measures on each Member State. And the quid is always the same: with lethal or non-lethal methods. It means “do as you like”, but do it. So from the regulatory point of view we have no margins, because science says that it must be done, and by science I mean ISPRA (Higher Institute for Environmental Protection and Research NDR), the highest institute at national level. ISPRA tells us that these species have impacts, have passed a risk assessment and therefore it is confirmed that there are effects on the habitats and must be eradicated. Science tells us this. The legislation derives from a European regulation and is therefore immediately applicable, it is not a directive that must be transposed, it is therefore applicable and applied at national level. When it comes to alternative, ecological methods, ISPRA itself tells us that they are a paradox and therefore should not be used. Referring to ecological methods, he says that they are those that intervene on the environment and not on the target species. Why do we have to alter the environment to protect a species that alters that environment? And that for that we have to remove it? So it’s not a usable way out. These methods can be used for native wildlife. If there is a native species that is problematic then I can act on the environment to decrease the presence of this species. To give an example, to reduce the number of foxes I could reduce that of their prey. It is just an example, it is not concrete, but it makes sense because it is a native species. Going to alter the environment to make it inhospitable to a species that is still a problem because it alters that environment becomes a contradiction. In the end, I do what that species would have done. Therefore, ISPRA is also against the so-called ecological alternative methods.