Experts are calling on the public to become “squirrel aware” to prevent the spread of a devastating disease among local red squirrels.
Concerns have been raised after a red squirrel was found suffering from the pox that almost wiped out the population in Merseyside and West Lancashire in 2008.
The squirrel was taken to a local vet with an advanced case of the pox and had to be euthanized. It was the second case of the pox in Blundellsdands this year.
The Lancashire Wildlife Trust’s Red Squirrel Project Officer Rachel Miller said: “The pox virus is carried by grey squirrels but they do not suffer from any symptoms of the disease.
“When it is passed to a red squirrel, it is fatal and the squirrel usually dies within two weeks. The disease can look like myxomatosis in rabbits, with lesions developing around the eyes, mouth and paws.
“The squirrels find it difficult to eat and drink and therefore become very dehydrated and lethargic. It is a terrible disease.”
The last outbreak of squirrel pox in 2008 resulted in the red squirrel population plummeting by 80per cent.
Since 2008, the red squirrel population has recovered well and returned to 80 per cent of the pre-pox numbers.
“Unfortunately we have had isolated cases of squirrel pox within the North Merseyside and West Lancashire stronghold, but until March this year, the last confirmed case of pox was in April 2012. This makes the recent cases in Blundellsands very worrying.”
Grey squirrels are a non-native invasive species and were introduced from America in 1876. They spread rapidly throughout the UK, unfortunately at the expense of our native red squirrel.
To help prevent a repeat of the devastation in 2008, The Wildlife Trust is asking for members of the public to vigilant and:
• Look out for sick red squirrels with signs of pox;
• Keep feeders clean using a pet safe disinfectant and remove any old food;
• Report sightings of grey squirrels and contact Rachel for help with trapping and removing grey squirrels from gardens.
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