The red squirrel is a small, tree-living rodent which is believed to have been present in Ireland for 10,000 years. Many people are familiar with this native species and its bright red coat, creamy white belly, bushy red tail and distinctive ear tufts. It has sharp, curved claws for climbing and strong hind legs for jumping from branch to branch. It can climb headfirst down tree trunks. The bushy tail is used for balance and for keeping the squirrel warm at night. Their body length can be up to 22 centimetres, the tail is 18 centimetres long and the squirrel can weigh up to 350 grams.
The red squirrel in Northern Ireland is in serious trouble. The population has declined dramatically due to loss of habitat and competition form the larger, invasive grey squirrel that carries a lethal pox virus.
Belfast Zoo plays an active role in red squirrel conservation, as a member of the Northern Ireland red squirrel forum. A captive breeding population was set up at the zoo’s red squirrel nook and young kits bred at the zoo have been successfully released back into safe areas in the wild of Northern Ireland.
In July 2017, we celebrated the birth of five red squirrel kittens. In June 2018, we released two female red squirrels, born at our Cave Hill site, at Silent Valley Mountain Park as part of a conservation release programme.
IUCN red list status
For more info on classifications visit www.iucnredlist.org