Swiss conservation organisation Pro Natura has crowned the Eurasian water shrew as its animal of the year. It chose the furry little diver to underline the importance of clean water.
The Eurasian water shrew is native to northern Europe and parts of Asia, and can be found throughout Switzerland near ponds, creeks and marshes.
Measuring six to ten centimetres in length not counting the tail, it weighs ten to 20 grams – and has to eat its own weight each day to stay nourished. Its diet includes insect larvae, crabs, snails, mussels, and sometimes, small fish. The water shrew stuns its prey with its venomous saliva.
Though it looks like a mouse, the water shrew is more closely related to moles and hedgehogs, which also eat insects. Its natural enemies include barn owls, herons, weasels and foxes.
However, contaminated wetlands are also a threat. Though officially classified as of “least concern” in terms of extinction risk, the water shrew depends on clean water for survival. As Pro Naturaexternal link points out, about 2,000 tonnes of pesticides are used in Switzerland every year, and the rain causes some of it to end up in the groundwater.
According to a 2014 report by the Eawag aquatic research instituteexternal link, medium-sized Swiss creeks contain 40 traces of different pesticides on average – often in concentrations higher than the legal limit.
In 2015, the Swiss Federal Office for the Environmentexternal link warned that the levels of pesticides in small and medium waterways were high enough to compromise biodiversity.
Pro Natura has called for a reduction in the use of pesticides and a ban on those associated with serious environmental and health risks.