As an Ecologist investigation recently revealed, red squirrels are under siege from habitat loss, disease and diminished funding from conservation groups. The species is currently 'almost extinct' in England with only a few thousand remaining in Wales.
An estimated 60 per cent of grey squirrels, which since 1920 have replaced red squirrels in much of England and Wales, carry the squirrel parapoxvirus, referred to as squirrel pox. Greys very rarely die from this disease as their population has developed immunity over many years. However, they are still carriers of the infection and can spread the disease to red squirrels.
No red squirrels are known to have developed immunity to the disease, and the mortality rate for untreated infected squirrels in the wild appears to be total, most dying within two weeks of being infected. Whole populations can be rapidly wiped out.
Painful lesions develop and spread over the red squirrel, particularly around the eyes and nose. As the disease progresses, reds, crippled and unable to see to feed themselves, starve to death. Some also die from secondary infections contracted through the raw skin.
A campaign to halt the spread of squirrelpox virus has been launched by the Wildlife Ark Trust.
'The Wildlife Ark Trust, a registered charity, decided it was essential to develop a vaccine to protect the red squirrel from the effects of this virus. Working with internationally renowned Moredun Research Institute, it has begun work to identify a vaccine,' said Mr Robin Wilkin, Chairman of the Wildlife Ark Trust.
The Wildlife Ark Trust has already raised £320,000 out of a total £408,000 for the vaccine programme. It aims to raise the remaining £88,000 for the final six months of this landmark project through the Red Squirrel Appeal.
TAKE ACTION to save the red squirrel
You can also donate by post by sending your cheque, made payable to the Wildlife Ark Trust, to the Red Squirrel Appeal, the Wildlife Ark Trust, P O Box 63, Consett DH8 0UR.
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