A California ground squirrel darts off on Tuesday morning after receiving a quick exam by San Diego Zoo Global scientists who were checking ear tags, weight and the sex of squirrels that were relocated as part of a conservation program aimed at helping burrowing owls. To date, the Zoo's newest hometown conservation program has relocated more than 350 squirrels to three sites within San Diego County that are thought to be suitable habitat for squirrels and owls. The ground squirrels play a critical role as grassland engineers, creating homes for other animals such as owls. Sites with ground squirrel colonies have a greater diversity of reptiles, amphibians, insects and birds than sites where they are absent.
Goals for the burrowing owl conservation program include developing a model that addresses habitat needs, genetic viability and conservation threats such as loss of habitat due to development and invasive species. In this first year, San Diego Zoo Global scientists hope to create suitable habitat that is self-sustaining by restoring a more intact, functional ecosystem.