Student - November 17, 2011

Weekend catching mice

Spending an entire weekend catching mice is some Wageningen students' idea of fun. They took part in the mouse camp organized by JNM and NJN last weekend. ‘Yes, very good, and now grab it by the scruff of its neck'.

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‘Open. Open. Open again'. Theo Linders pushes some brushwood aside in the light of the almost full moon. The cold bites into his fingers. Four other participants creep up cautiously behind him. They have a torch to help them spot the slippery slopes and bumps on time. 'Ah, closed', Theo smiles. He brings out a plastic sandwich bag and lets Kelly, in her second year at secondary school, empty out a ‘humane mouse-trap' into the bag. 'Clearly a wood mouse, see those big Mickey Mouse ears?' he says with satisfaction while Kelly tries to grab the animal, which is jumping up and down in the plastic bag. 'Look', says Theo, 'you should grab the mouse with one hand, on the outside of the bag. Yes, very good, and then you need to put your other hand in the bag and get hold of the scruff of its neck right behind the skull.' Kelly laughs nervously and looks at the mouse. The animal has no option but to play dead and let them determine its sex, after which it is released.
Long hair
Theo thinks this is as good as it gets. ‘Mammals are appealing and cuddly. And Holland already has plenty of nature-loving bird-watchers.' The Wageningen University student, who is now nineteen, got into this a few years ago. His mother thought he ought to go on a holiday camp and so he went on a camp organized by JNM (Young People in Nature). 'So off I went on the train to Rotterdam. On the way one of the camp leaders spoke to me, a long-haired guy. I thought, what on earth have I got into?'
But it turned out to be fantastic. Now Theo goes on around fifteen JNM camps a year, and organizes several of them himself, including this one. And Theo is not alone. Most of the members of the combined Wageningen/Arnhem branch of the NJN (Dutch Youth Association for Nature Studies) and JNM are students at the University. Most of them are studying Biology, or Forestry and Nature Management like Theo.
Fast metabolism
The group follows the track through the dark. They meticulously note down the species and sex of every mouse they catch. Their data will go to the nature conservationists and the Dutch Mammal Society, which will use them to determine the national distribution of mice. Each time, the mouse-trap is refilled with hay for warmth, a piece of carrot for moisture, some guinea-pig food and mealworms. The latter are particularly important for shrews. 'They have a very fast metabolism; they will die if they don't eat every few hours', explains Theo.
Click, the mouse-trap has been set again. The group carefully slide down the slope and make their way towards the bicycle lamp glowing in the distance. They cycle quickly to the next clump of grass set about with traps. ‘Perhaps we'll see a greater white-toothed shrew.'

Beer drinkers and tree huggers
The Netherlands has two nature societies run entirely by young people aged between 12 and 25. The Dutch Youth Association for Nature Studies (NJN) is the biggest with around 500 members. The other club, JNM (Young People in Nature) has about 350 members. JNM was originally founded in protest at the ‘heathen Sunday excursions' of the other group but these days the club has no Christian affiliations. There are still differences. NJN members think JNM people are ‘partying beer drinkers, while they see the NJN group as ‘smelly tree huggers who go to bed at eight o'clock.' But this is all just friendly teasing. In reality the two groups often collaborate and their aims are virtually identical: organizing excursions and camps. The two clubs share a branch in the Wageningen-Arnhem region. It has around 120 members, 55 of whom are students at Wageningen University and 15 at VHL Velp. There is no branch in Leeuwarden. More info: www.wageningen.njn.nl and www.jnm.nl

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