Belfast Zoo is celebrating another conservation success with the birth of five Red Squirrel kittens.
The kits were spotted outside of their drey (squirrel nest) for the first time at the start of July and can now be spotted in the zoo’s Red Squirrel Nook.
The Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) is a small, tree-living rodent, which is believed to have been present in Ireland for more than 10,000 years. Many people are familiar with this iconic native species, its bright red coat, creamy white belly, bushy tail and distinctive ear tufts. However, the Red Squirrel in Northern Ireland is in serious trouble. The population has dramatically declined due to the loss of their forest habitats in addition to competition from the invasive Grey Squirrel that carries a lethal pox virus.
Zoo Manager, Alyn Cairns, explained, “Here at Belfast Zoo, we care for some of the most endangered species from around the globe but the problem is closer to home than most people think! Animals on our own doorstep are facing increasing threats and populations are disappearing at an alarming rate. Recognizing this alarming trend, the Belfast Zoo team formed a native species group in 2004 to work on a number of native species projects. In 2012, following the culmination of many years of work and consultation with local wildlife organizations, we opened Red Squirrel Nook.”