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Red squirrel

Sciurus vulgaris

Red squirrel

The red squirrel is a small, tree-living rodent which is believed to have been present in Ireland for 10,000 years. Many people are familiar with this native species and its bright red coat, creamy white belly, bushy red tail and distinctive ear tufts. It has sharp, curved claws for climbing and strong hind legs for jumping from branch to branch. It can climb headfirst down tree trunks. The bushy tail is used for balance and for keeping the squirrel warm at night.

The red squirrel in Northern Ireland is in serious trouble. The population has declined dramatically due to loss of habitat and competition form the larger, invasive grey squirrel that carries a lethal pox virus.

Belfast Zoo plays an active role in red squirrel conservation, as a member of the Northern Ireland red squirrel forum.  A captive breeding population was set up at the zoo’s red squirrel nook and young kits bred at the zoo have been successfully released back into safe areas in the wild of Northern Ireland.

In July 2017, we celebrated the birth of five red squirrel kittens. In June 2018, we released two female red squirrels, born at our Cave Hill site, at Silent Valley Mountain Park as part of a conservation release programme.

Habitat
Forest

Diet - Herbivore
Red squirrels eat flowers, leaves and seeds.

Size
Their body length can be up to 22 centimetres (cm), the tail is 18cm long and the squirrel can weigh up to 350 grams.

Location
You can find red squirrels in woodland throughout Europe, north Asia and Siberia.

Conservation status
The IUCN does not consider the red squirrel to be in danger of extinction in the wild. Although in some regions, especially Northern Ireland, the population is at severe risk.

Threats
The red squirrel is threatened by habitat destruction and disease, especially when in competition with the grey squirrel.

Current population
The red squirrel is common throughout most of its range, but populations in the United Kingdom and Ireland have declined drastically.

Zoo population
There are 180 red squirrels in zoos worldwide.