Year of 2017

Eurasian red squirrel in Cairngorms National Park, Scotland

Join us in singing the praises of this wee Eurasian red squirrel — and the virtues of squirrels everywhere — for today is Squirrel Appreciation Day.

Truly, we admire the perseverance of the red squirrel, which has faced daunting challenges in recent years, even here in beautiful Cairngorms National Park. This vast Scottish wilderness saw, like other parts of the British Isles, a steep decline in the red squirrel population after humans introduced the nonnative Eastern gray squirrel to the area in the late 1800s. The grays can eat a wider variety of food, and brought with them diseases to which the red squirrels were susceptible. But luckily for the red squirrel, pine martens, a weasel-like critter, find gray squirrels especially tasty, and as a result, the red squirrel population here is on the rise again.

Nevertheless, the red squirrel’s not yet out of the woods, as it were. Scientists recently discovered that a significant portion of the UK’s population of red squirrels carries a form of leprosy. Not only is this bad news for the red squirrel, but health officials had been under the impression that leprosy had died out in the UK centuries ago. They stress that the infection poses little—if any—threat to humans, but it’s another difficult challenge for the red squirrel. Now if only the pine marten could solve that problem, too…

The red squirrel or Eurasian red squirrel is a species of tree squirrel in the genus Sciurus common throughout Eurasia. The red squirrel is an arboreal, omnivorous rodent. In Great Britain, Italy and Ireland, numbers have decreased drastically in recent years. This decline is associated with the introduction by humans of the eastern grey squirrel from North America. In addition, habitat loss is a factor. Due to this, without conservation the species could disappear from those shores within a generation. Unlike some other rodents, the Eurasian red squirrel is not a direct threat to humans.