Siberian Chipmunks in BrusselsCool for Kids

The Siberian Chipmunks of the Forêt de Soignes

The Siberian Chipmunks in the Forêt de Soignes make a great photo opportunity

If you’ve ever walked through the Forêt de Soignes, the huge beech forest to the south of Brussels – and particularly in the area around L’Abbaye de Rouge-Cloître, just off Avenue de Tervuren – you’ve surely seen them.

Cute. Bushy-tailed. Brown-and-grey striped. The size of large hamsters.

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They are Siberian Chipmunks.

There’s quite a colony of them in the forest. A study performed by the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences put the figure at 2,000. But that was a decade ago. I suspect there might be double that number now.

They shouldn’t be in Belgium. Actually they are a long way from home, as indicated by their name. They belong to northern Asia, central Russia, China, Korea, and northern Japan. But in the 1960s they were brought over to Europe and sold in pet shops.

The Great Escape

No-one knows for sure how they ended up in Brussels’ forests; but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist – or even a chipmunk scientist – to provide a reasonable guess.

Chipmunks are great biters and chewers, and it takes a strong cage to confine them. It is very easy to imagine a child coming home from school one day to feed his or her pets, only to discover a gaping hole in the box, and a trail of sawdust leading to the open window… and the nearby woodland.

Or maybe their owners realised they weren’t as friendly and fun as hamsters, and deliberately released them in the wild?

Whatever happened, they survived in Forêt de Soignes, and bred.

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The Great Multiplication

Chipmunks can breed twice a year, having an average of five babies each time, and the youngsters are considered adult when they are just 9 months old, so it wouldn’t have been long before there was quite a thriving colony.

The same scientists who counted them also researched if they are doing any harm to native plants or animals. Despite numbers of certain bird species decreasing since the 1960s, the scientists found no evidence to suggest that these little furry balls were to blame.

An idea for the kids

One of the most appealing characteristics of the Siberian Chipmunk is its fearlessness. Whereas most wild animals disappear into the undergrowth, these little animals appear totally unafraid of passing walkers, and will often approach quite closely, as if they are watching us.

So, kids, why not get out your phone and take their photo? If you sit very still on a log, they will approach quite closely. You could even take some peanuts to attract them closer to your camera.

Send me your best photos and I will happily publish them here

 

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43 replies »

  1. I would have a hard time distinguishing the Siberian from our Eastern chipmunk, here in the northeast U.S. They’re undeniably cute, even if they can be a pest in the garden.

  2. Love those guys! I see them quite often when I run in the Forêt. Didn’t know they are most common towards Tervuren, I’m mostly over in the Uccle part. May take a few peanuts next time!

  3. What a great idea for children to get involved in posting photos of these cute little creatures, and like many species, like the grey squirrel here, introduced and almost wiped out the native red squirrel..
    And they too can become quite tame..
    Hope you are well Denzil, and keeping warm..
    Take care my friend and enjoy your week 🙂
    Sue

  4. Total soft spot for this type of critter, Squirrel, Chipmunk, Marmott, Praire dog, I could watch them all for hours!!

    Have fun watching them

    • A very good suggestion Sara. I was actually going to add that, and then thought I would make a separate post with all the details of where to walk in the Forest, but then forgot to mention I was going to do that in this post. Thanks for the reminder. I’ll try and get that information online next weekend.

    • Interesting how different species on different continents often look similar, suggesting common ancestry before the continents separated.

  5. Oh dear. It sounds as of these ferocious and cheeky chipmunks are about to take over the Forêt fe Soignes, then Brussels and eventually Europe.

  6. I know they are an invasive species, but oh my goodness they are so, so cute!!

    To be fair, if I was a chipmunk, I’d prefer Belgium to those colder climbs further North!!

  7. What an adorable critter the chipmunk is – great photos, Denzil, and an interesting article about the invasion of alien species. I hope they don’t decimate native plants and other creatures. Very cool to invite kids to submit their photos.

    Someone won a trip to Belgium and Netherlands on Wheel of Fortune today – have they got a wonderful vacation to look forward to. (And am I jealous.)

  8. I first saw one of these chipmunks as a pet in a cage on a market in Lokeren. My American boyfriend asked: “What are they doing in cages? They are wild animals.” I had no idea. I had never seen them before in the wild, except for their cousins in the US. This was ten years ago. I guess some of them were, indeed, released and ended up in the forest.

    Sweet story, Denzil, but I cringed when you mentioned peanuts… I guess as long as the wildlife does not get fed, it is OK. People need to get trained, here in the US, and probably everywhere in the world that feeding wildlife can kill them and makes them, at the very least, dependent on people.

    • Yes, currently they don’t seem to have affected the native wildlife at all, but you never know what the long-term consequences might be.

      • That’s true, especially at the phenomenal rate they appear to breed. I guess problems may arise if and when, like the grey squirrel, they deprive natives of food.

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