No fewer than 46 gophers (ground squirrels) have been “deported” from Ferenc Liszt International Airport by professionals of the airport, Kaposvár University and the National Park of Kiskunság. This extensive environmental (not anti-immigration policing) effort was aimed at enhancing the safety of aviation as well as the indigenous Hungarian rodents under special protection. This year the gopher is the “Mammal of the year”, making their relocation from the airport a really hot topic.
During the gopher rescue mission, experts of Budapest Airport tried to catch members of the population on-airport with various methods of trapping. The action was mainly focused on the 13L end of runway 2 and around the Aeropark operated by the Aviation Cultural Centre. Similar efforts are made every two years.
The gopher (Spermophilus citellus) is an indigenous but increasingly endangered species with a special liking for spacious grasslands and, earlier, sodaic plains. The gopher itself does not jeopardise the operation of the airport but it is a preferred prey of large predator birds such as hawks and buzzards, so the gophers have to go.
Collision with large birds (bird-strikes) in the air is a threat to the protected birds as well as aircraft landing or taking off, and aviation safety considerations come before all else.
Gophers are ideally captured in April, after their winter slumber but before reproduction. This way the small ones are born in the underground passages at their new place. Budapest Airport – closely resembling ancient grasslands – is an ideal habitat for them.
The gopher is under special protection, valued at EUR 840 per specimen, so in the course of the latest relocation rodents worth more than EUR 33,000 (the price of a luxury car) were moved. The 46 captured animals were set free in the National Park of Kiskunság, around Pusztaszer. It also adds to the gopher’s biological significance that it is the favourite source of nutrition of a bird of Hungarian legends, the saker falcon, which lends special importance to the relocation.
“We spent a long and tiring weekend trapping gophers at the airport,” said Ferenc Kis, head of environmental protection of Budapest Airport. “Our cooperation with Kaposvár University and the National Park of Kiskunság goes back a long way, and our joint gopher capturing was successful again. We are trying to ensure aviation safety with methods in harmony with environmental considerations and relocate gophers as well as kestrel nestlings, and disperse birds with sound blasts and hunting dogs.”