More red squirrels have been released from Pensthorpe into the wild
Two red squirrels raised at Pensthorpe Nature Reserve have been released on Anglesey Island, Wales, as part of a red squirrel breeding programme.
"It's very satisfying to release two of our squirrels back into the wild," said Deb Jordan, co-owner of Pensthorpe.
The pair are two of eight kittens born at the north Norfolk reserve in 2009.
The release on 8 October occurred during the Wildlife Trust's Red Squirrel Week, signalling the nosedive in the UK's population of reds.
"Our work this year with these fascinating creatures has been phenomenally successful and it has been wonderful to watch them grow into healthy adults," said Deb.
"Now it's time for them to return to their natural wild state, which is the whole purpose of our breeding programme," she added.
Pensthorpe is part of the East Anglian Red Squirrels breeding programme
The pair have been released along with six other young squirrels bred by members of the East Anglian Red Squirrel Group at Easton College, Norwich, Whitwell Hall, Reepham, Kelling Heath Holiday Park, Holt and Pettitts Animal Adventure Park in Reedham.
The release locations in Anglesey are secret and are known to have zero population of grey squirrels, of which the breed carry the virus that is fatal to the reds.
David Stapleford, from the East Anglian Red Squirrel breeding programme, has stated that the eight moved in October 2009 had a successful trip to Anglesey and have settled in comfortably into their new surroundings.
He also hopes for more red kittens to sent to the island in the near future.
The Pensthorpe Conservation Trust has been a member of the East Anglian Red Squirrel breeding program for a number of years, working with other organisations within the region to breed and eventually release red squirrels at designated sites.
Pensthorpe's two purpose-built red squirrel enclosures, which were opened alongside an original structure in April 2009, currently house 17 squirrels.
"It has been a very good breeding year with sufficient mature young kittens from spring litters to cover the release programme," said David Stapleford.
"Breeding success can be variable due to weather conditions and the pairing of adult squirrels.
"The pairing of the squirrels at Pensthorpe proved a great match - in the last 18 months, 13 young have been born.
"Good food and a good environment are of course essential for contentment and breeding."
RED SQUIRREL FACTS
Red squirrels live up to seven years
A red squirrels tail can measure up to 20cm
Their coat is reddish-brown in summer, but appears chocolate brown with grey in the winter
The last two red kittens to be sent to Anglesey Island travelled on Saturday, 13 December, 2008, to get the species numbers back up. They were the children of two mating reds from Pensthorpe earlier in that year.
The travelling kittens had been micro-chipped, wormed and checked over before the trip and they have been followed and monitored in their new home.
"Once the squirrels are released, they all run off and it can be quite difficult to keep track of them," said Dr Craig Shuttleworth, woodland ecologist and coordinator of the Anglesey Red Squirrel Project.
"However, the two we received from Pensthorpe in 2008 are presumed fit and healthy," he added.
Prior to the squirrels' move, the Pensthorpe team were very excited about the cross-country venture.
"We want to show people what fantastic creatures they are," said warden Chrissie Kelly.
"There have been various names for the two of them - Bill and Deb [named after Bill and Deb Jordan who own Pensthorpe] and also Romeo and Juliet.
"They are a very young couple and we were really surprised when she had five kittens, which was fantastic for her first year," she added.
Chrissie helps to look after the red squirrels at Pensthorpe
Red squirrels are indigenous in Britain, but the common grey squirrels we seen in our parks and gardens are American.
"Unfortunately, these squirrels are wiping out the reds in Britain and they are virtually gone apart from a few pockets in the Isle of Wight and Scotland,2 said Chrissie.
"It's mainly down to the pox virus that the greys' carry. They are resistant to the virus, but unfortunately the reds are not. If they catch it they get very poorly and die."
The Moredun Research Institute near Edinburgh found the virus after taking blood samples from grey squirrels.
Grey squirrels are seldom harmed by the virus, but red squirrels have no immunity.
Those that catch the virus will suffer skin ulcers, lesions and scabs, with swelling and discharge around the eyes, mouth, feet and genitals. They usually die within 15 days.
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