The Barbary ground squirrel is typically found on the coast of western Sahara, in Morocco, Algeria and in the vicinity of the Atlas Mountain. These squirrels were brought to Fuerteventura more than 4 decades ago as pets. During this time they have managed to colonize the entire island. The Barbary ground squirrel is an invasive species in Fuerteventura, causing important damage to cultivations and to Canarian native animals and plants.
A bit of history - How the chipmunks got to Fuerteventura in the first place
The squirrels got to Fuerteventura in the year 1965, when a person living on the island brought a pair of squirrels as pets. The pair presumably escaped, or one of them escaped and the other one was set free by the owner.
In just a few years, between 3 and 5, the chipmunks had multiplied and they were seen in the area of Gran Tarajal. In the 70's the population had extended due to more people bringing them to Fuerteventura as pets and them liberate them on the island.
Since the climate in Fuerteventura is very similar to the climate in their native land, the chipmunks population has prospered on the island and is now in the thousands.The Barbary ground squirrel has a bushy long tail, usually as long as it's body. It measures between 15 to 22 cm and the males are larger in size than the females.
In the recent years, other islands in the archipelago like Gran Canaria and Lanzarote also found some specimens. However, the authorities managed to captivate the squirrels and they were not able to grow in population like they did in Fuerteventura.
The impact on the environment of Fuerteventura
The Barbary squirrel is one of the few mammals that live on the island and since it was introduced by man, it it considered an invasive species.
If you're driving through the island you will see lots of signs of warning regarding the chipmunks. The authorities ask tourists not to feed the squirrels, since they are affecting the flora and fauna native to the island and the authorities don't wish for their population to grow. There is no actual law against feeding the chipmunks in Fuerteventura, it's just a recommendation from the authorities. The local authorities also advise against bringing the chipmunks to other islands in the Canaries, in order to prevent their expansion in the archipelago.
Where to find the squirrels in Fuerteventura
Since the population is now so big, the squirrels can now be found all over the island.
They are attracted by places with lots of tourists, since they are happy to give them food in order to get them to come close. You can find them in almost every part of the island, such as:
- the chipmunks in Corralejo can be found up the path by Clarkies bar, about 15 minutes walk from the harbour. Also you can walk up the hill to Mercadona and you should see a path on the right, or walk a little further to the Blue Bahia Azul and turn right and you will find them all along that road.
- in Caleta de Fuste you can find the chipmunks on the promenade to Nuevo Horizonte
- In Puerto del Rosario you can find them on the beach, in the part along the promenade that takes you to the Palacio de Formación y Congresos (the big black building that can be seen from Playa Chica)
- in the south of Fuerteventura you can find the chipmunks on the beaches of Jandia, in Mal Nombre, Esquinzo, Tierra Dorada and Barranco del Canario.
- you can also find them in Morro Jable and we've also seen some chipmunks in La Pared, near the parking for the beach
- In Betancuria also you can see the squirrels
- at Casa de los Coroneles the chipmunks will be meeting you right at the entrance.
As you can see, the squirrels can be found all over the island and you won't have to go far to find them.
The little creatures are very popular among visitors and extremely photogenic, but be careful around them.
They can carry a lot of diseases and viruses, some of them dangerous for other animals and even humans.
Also, you should listen to the authorities and not feed them. Their numbers are already very high and they shouldn't be allowed to increase their population.