The Siberian Chipmunks living 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.
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.
THE GREAT MULTIPLICATION
Chipmunks can breed twice a year. They have an average of five young 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
You can send them via WhatsApp:
First to send in some photos is Andrew Wall, who captured some shots of this handsome little fellow in his back garden in Avenue Isidore Gérard in Brussels. Thanks Andrew!
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.
These ones chatter away in a very Russian accent Robert.
Love those guys! I see them quite often when I run in the ForÃªt. Didnâ€™t know they are most common towards Tervuren, Iâ€™m mostly over in the Uccle part. May take a few peanuts next time!
Don’t forget to take a snap!
Will do Denzil – though they are quite fast when they want to be!
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 🙂
Thanks Sue, thankfully they are not as pesky as grey squirrels. Hope you survived the recent wintry weeks in England!
Yes thank you Denzil we survived, and here the snow is all but gone except for where it drifted as we had heavy rain. Thank you for asking x
Total soft spot for this type of critter, Squirrel, Chipmunk, Marmott, Praire dog, I could watch them all for hours!!
Have fun watching them
Glad to hear it! Thanks for stopping by.
They look cute, but it sounds like you wouldnâ€™t want to feed them bits of bread. They might bite your finger! ðŸ˜„
Yes I would be wary of getting that close, for sure Carrie!
Aren’t they cute. With that rate of breeding, I’m surprised they haven’t taken over the whole country.
That’s their intention Carol, and then I believe they have Australia in their sights.
They might not receive a friendly reception if they try!
Hi. Can you add recommend starting point with google maps? Thanks in advance
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.
They are cute, and look similar to our Eastern chipmunks, which drive the dog (thus me) crazy!
Interesting how different species on different continents often look similar, suggesting common ancestry before the continents separated.
Oh dear. It sounds as of these ferocious and cheeky chipmunks are about to take over the ForÃªt fe Soignes, then Brussels and eventually Europe.
Apparently overwhelming and occupying Audeghem is their first target Hans.
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!!
I agree Josy, particularly as Belgium was remarkably largely unaffected by the recent freeze and snow storms, which hit countries to the west, north, east and even south of us more than Belgium itself.
I think I would rather have snow than rain all the time. Though at the moment we have neither in Turkey. That may weather forecast prediction may change tomorrow 🙂 I agree Josy they are cute and a species we don’t have in NZ.
Hi Suzanne, Turkey sounds a pleasant environment to be in at this time of the year.
Hi Denzil, most of the time it can be, though we have been told it has had a wet and miserable winter with a few warm days. Snow in Nice this morning 🙂
And mild in the Arctic. Scary.
Yes, I agree things are changing and I imagine not for the good. It is scary!!
Pingback: Chipmunks in the ForÃªt deÂ Soignes – Discovering Belgium
I love chipmunks. They are so very cute.
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.)
I’ll look out for him or her Sharon! Thanks for your appreciation.
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.
A good point about feeding wildlife Liesbet. Certainly bulk feeding out of season can be harmful.
Pingback: Walking and cycling in the ForÃªt de Soignes – Discovering Belgium
How cute are they?! It sounds like they’re easier to live with than the pesky grey squirrels.
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.
ze zijn inderdaad erg schattig aar en net zoals de roodwangschildpadden opduiken in beken en vijver en scha
schade toebrengen aan ons milieu kunnen dieren die hier ontsnappen,overleven.Zie maar naar all die parkieten in Amsterdam.
Ja, veel parkieten ook in Brussel. En grijze eekhorn in Engeland. Maar deze lijken nog geen schade te hebben aangericht. Nog niet. En ik hoop nooit.
Pingback: Walking and cycling in the ForÃªt de Soignes – Discovering Belgium
I used to see chipmunks in the foret de soignes regularly. But that was 10 years ago. I’m in the forest on average 4 times a week on horseback. I see rabbits, deer, foxes, occasional red squirrels, but never chipmunks. And I look out for them. I don’t think their numbers are increasing, but the opposite. The last time I spotted one was at least 7 years ago. I assumed an illness wiped them out, like the one intentionally inflicted on the rabbit population.
When and where was the last time you saw a chipmunk. I would love to see one again.
Thanks for your comment J. The last time I saw them was a few years ago around the back of the L’Abbaye de Rouge-Cloître. To be honest I haven’t visited that area recently.