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Unique program helping to restock nature

This is Meadow jumping mouse known for its kangaroo like hind legs long tail. | FILE PHOTO

This is the Meadow jumping mouse, known for its kangaroo like hind legs and long tail. | FILE PHOTO

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WILDFLOWER WALK IS JUNE 29

Walk the Wildflower Walk next Saturday from 10-11:30 a.m. at Lake County Forest Preserve’s Rollins Savanna in Grayslake on Washington Street, where you’ll learn to identify wildflowers and find out some interesting facts about how they were named or used by Native Americans and pioneers. Cost is $5 per adult and $1 per child. Register by calling (847) 968-3321.

Updated: August 21, 2013 2:43AM



Lake County is getting restocked with jumping meadow mice and smooth, fluorescent almost, green snakes through a partnership between the Lincoln Park Zoo and the Lake County Forest Preserve. And there are more animals in the pipeline.

The zoo also partnered with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to re-introduce ornate box turtles to sand prairies located near the state’s northwest border with the Mississippi River.

While the main hope is to strengthen these animal populations, it’s also an opportunity to learn more about the animals through research using tracking devices. The mice have little collars and the snakes have a small implant. The only hiccup is that the tiny batteries used don’t have a very long life. Technology keeps changing battery life though, so not to worry, there’s more data in the future for researchers. We just have to be patient.

This is the third year for the smooth green snake. Last year, 18 were “soft released,” meaning they went into an enclosure so they could acclimate to the surroundings and be safe from predators.

“It’s a pretty neat snake. It’s on the watch list, it’s at the cusp of being threatened or endangered,” said Gary Glowicki, wildlife biologist for the forest preserve district when I called him last year about a North Chicago family, Claire Kim, 44, of North Chicago, who had a great experience with her daughters finding one in the fall basking on the crushed limestone trail at the Greenbelt Forest Preserve.

The snakes prefer prairie grasses and wetlands where they hunt insects and spiders. The list of predators includes red-tailed hawks, great blue herons, raccoons, foxes and the common house cat. While habitat destruction and pesticide use have taken its toll, because it is a non-aggressive and very beautiful snake, sometimes they are captured for resale in the exotic pet trade. They don’t survive well in captivity. They are only found in the northern states, while a similar snake, a rough green snake, lives in the southern states and southern Illinois.

Now some people may question restocking mice of any kind in the forest preserve, but these are meadow jumping mice, not to be confused with woodland jumping mice, which have a white tip on their tail. They are smaller than other mice, but have a longer, a long, tail. They are nocturnal and their “large kangaroo-type feet,” allow then to bound up to four feet through the grasses to evade predators like barn owls and coyotes,” said Sharon Dewar, director of public relations for the Lincoln Park Zoo.

The mice will be set free in the grasslands of a forest preserve site this July and they will have “teeny, tiny radio collars,” she said. While the smooth green snake is listed as a species of concern, the jumping mouse is not, “But it is critical for other species that are threatened. They are important for other species,” she said, which means they are a food source with an important place in the circle of life or food chain.

“This species is an important seed disperser of native grasses and vegetation,” explained Allison Sacerdote-Velat, Ph.D. reintroduction biologist at Lincoln Park Zoo. “The zoo has produced three litters, and will be releasing several individuals to restored habitat using a couple different release techniques to assess which methods are most effective at establishing a successful population. We’ll track their movements with radio collars and the information gleaned will inform our “This species is an important seed disperser of native grasses and vegetation,” explained Allison Sacerdote-Velat, Ph.D. reintroduction biologist at Lincoln Park Zoo. “The zoo has produced three litters, and will be releasing several individuals to restored habitat using a couple different release techniques to assess which methods are most effective at establishing a successful population. We’ll track their movements with radio collars and the information gleaned will inform our ongoing recovery efforts,” she said.

These prairie-reliant species are threatened primarily from habitat loss, conversion of grasslands into agriculture, pesticide usage and urbanization. “Suitable habitat is being created, but many species have trouble accessing it due to fragmentation from roads and other physical barriers which makes re-colonization of restored sites improbable,” explained Sacerdote-Velat.

“These collaborative conservation partnerships are terrific because each agency brings a unique expertise. The zoo specializes in small population biology and animal care. We can successfully breed, hatch and care for these species until they are large and mature enough for release,” she said.

And Dewar said they have been trying to do more. The snakes and mice were collected in Lake County for the breeding program and they have been trying to capture the elusive least weasel, so they can try breeding that species, which is threatened.

“We haven’t been successful trapping or locating them, but our goal is to do a similar effort for the,. We’ve seen other weasels, but not that one,” she said.



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