A red squirrel expert has raised fears of a deadly pox virus in Formby – depsite being over 100 miles away when she made the diagnosis!
Victoria McNamara, a member of the South Scotland Red Squirrels Conservation Scheme, was browisng social media site facebook when she came across a Nature Photgrapher’s shot of a red squirrel in Formby Pine Woods.
And while many users thought it nothing but a cute photograph, alarm bells began to instantly ring for Victoria, who immediate recognised the animal as showing clear signs of lesions – an early indicator of possible fatal Squirrel Pox.
If an epidemic of the disease happened to break out, it could prove devestating for the red squirrel population of Formby – and National Trust bosses say they are taking no risks, having immediately informed park staff to be extra vigillant for signs of more sick squirrels.
Scottish Wildlife expert Victoria said: “I saw the photo on the BBC Springwatch Facebook Page and while everyone may think it’s a very cute photo of a Squirrel eating a nut, I saw something much worse.
“The lesions around the ear really concerned me.
“I’ve spoken to various rangers and nature officers at the trust who agree that it looks like a sick animal and they are going to try and locate it, if it hasn’t already died.
“The hunt is on to try and find out what is going on. With reds fate on a knife edge as their numbers are so low, I am really really hoping I am wrong.
“But it would be good to highlight this and their precarious position, caused by us, and the spread of this terrible devastating disease by the greys.”
Andrew Brockbank, Countryside Manager for the National Trust in Formby, told our reporter: “When we see a red squirrel showing any swelling around the eye it raises the concern that it may be Squirrel Pox although there are other less serious things which can cause these symptoms.
“Our Rangers and volunteers will be extra vigilant looking out for any signs of sick squirrels.
“As a precaution, it is good to get the message out about cleaning bird tables and feeders. Use a disinfectant or just a good wash with soapy water to reduce the risk of disease being spread.
“If people locally see a sick red squirrel please do report it either to Rachel at the Lancashire Wildlife Trust on 07590745862 or leave a message for us at Formby@nationaltrust.org.uk
“Also grey squirrels carry squirrel pox virus so it is important to report any sightings in and around Formby.”
The Squirrel Pox Virus is usually fatal to red squirrels. Grey squirrels are carriers of the infection and can spread the disease to red squirrels. Greys have developed immunity to the disease having been exposed to the virus for many years.
In sharp contrast, the mortality rate for untreated infected red squirrels in the wild appears to be 100%, most dying within 15 days of being infected. If caught early enough a vet may be able to treat the squirrel but success is rare.
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