Why are they trying to count all the squirrels in Central Park?
NEW YORK (FOX5NY.COM) - Jacqueline needs no help identifying a squirrel.
"It's gray. They're kind of about that big," she said, measuring in the air with her hands, "and they're furry. Will, look over there! There's two over there."
But Jacqueline, 6, and her brother, Will, 4, expressed differing levels of interest, Tuesday evening, in counting the squirrels—all of the squirrels—in Central Park.
"It'd be too hard," Jacqueline said, "and I'd lose track."
"I would not lose track," Will said.
The Squirrel Census creator Jamie Allen and the project's cartographer, Nat Slaughter, are looking for squirrel-counters like Will.
"Central Park is like the moon of parks for us," Allen said. "We want to go to the moon."
Allen, a writer, started counting squirrels in Atlanta six years ago after his dog's obsession with the animal inspired him to write a story about squirrels, which sent him in search of the answer to a question: How many squirrels live in Atlanta?
"They kind of laughed me off the phone," Allen said.
Allen thought it nutty no statistic existed for the number of these disease-carrying animals that live so close to so many people, so he and his friends set out to count the squirrels in Atlanta's Inman Park, a mission that won him Kickstarter Project of the Year.
"It's a methodology based on the work of Von Flieger," Allen said. "He's a noted squirrel biologist."
That method breaks down a green space into 100-meter by 100-meter plots (hectares), in each of which volunteers count squirrel populations once in the morning and once at night and then plug those numbers into a formula that takes into account both double-counting and squirrelier squirrels counters might miss.
"Squirrels live in a lot of detail and our map needs to reflect that reality," Slaughter said.
In addition to an estimated squirrel population, The Squirrel Census also plans to leave behind the most comprehensive map of Central Park in its 161-year history. So while Allen squirreled away resources for this rodent-counting moon mission, Slaughter spent 16 months creating a map accurate enough for each volunteer to both identify and remain within the confines of their hectare and then plot every squirrel they find there.
"I'm guessing 1,000," Jacqueline said.
The Central Park Squirrel Census begins Saturday, Oct. 6, runs three weeks and hopes to enlist 200-300 volunteers. One can sign up to help out on The Squirrel Census' website. The project's partners include The Explorers Club, NYU's Department of Environmental Studies and Macaulay Honors College's BioBlitz.