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What to do if you spot an injured or sick red squirrel

If you are worried about a red squirrel's welfare, including abandoned kits, please contact the Scottish SPCA on 03000 999 999.  They are best placed to offer expert advice and will be able to collect the squirrel for vetinary attention and rehabilitation if deemed necessary.

However, if you suspect a red squirrel may be suffering from squirrelpox please contact us (the form below) in addition to informing SSPCA. Please send us a photograph of the squirrel if possible.

What to do if you find a dead red squirrel

If you find a dead red squirrel that looks obviously diseased, please contact us so that follow-up action to protect local red squirrels can be taken if necessary.

It is likely that we would wish to sent the carcass for post mortem in order to identify or eliminate Squirrelpox virus as the cause of disease (see below for a description).

Although we are not aware of diseases transerring from red squirrels to humans it is important to follow normal hygiene precautions. Use disposable gloves or put your hand in a polythese bag to avoind handling the animal directly.

We also request that any other dead red squirrels you find are sent for post mortem, even if it is clearly a road victim that looks otherwise healthy. Our colleagues at the Royal (Dick) School of Vetinary Studies are carrying out a long-term health study of Scotland's wild red squirrels and these specimens are a valuable contribution to that work. Click HERE for more information.

Squirrelpox

Diseases suffered by red squirrels

Red squirrel populations have seriously declined. The greatest threat is the invasive non-native grey squirrel. Not only do they out-compete the reds, they carry disease which can kill the reds. Find out more below...

What is squirrelpox and what can be done about it?

Squirrelpox virus (SQPV) is carried by grey squirrels without causing them any symptoms, but causes fatal disease in reds. It produces weeping scabs around the eyes, nose, mouth, ears, feet and genitalia. The infected red squirrel is very quickly unable to feed properly, and rapidly becomes unwell. Squirrelpox is usually lethal in red squirrels within about 15 days of infection.
 

The virus is already established in south Scotland and is spreading northwards. It is likely that it will eventually spread through grey squirrel populations further north into the Central Belt and as far as the Highland line.


There is currently no evidence to suggest that reds in Scotland have developed any immunity. A study in Lancashire suggested that up to 8% of infected reds may survive, by producing protective antibodies, but with such a low survival rate, the vacated habitat will be rapidly colonised by greys, effectively preventing the reds from recovering from the disease outbreak.


A vaccine is currently in development, but for the time being the best way to protect Scotland's red squirrels from SQPV is to use targeted and coordinated grey squirrel control in carefully chosen areas.


You can help prevent the spread of SQPV and other infections by ensuring wildlife feeding stations are regularly disinfected, by removing feeders visited by both red and grey squirrels.

What is red squirrel leprosy?

Over the years Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels have had a number of queries accompanied by photographs of red squirrels with distinctive skin disease. In 2005 the Royal (Dick) School of Vetinary Studies in Edinburgh found the organism causing the disease was similar to Mycobacterium lepromatosis, a bacterium that causes leprosy in humans.

The disease is unmistakable: there is gross swelling and loss of hair around the snout, lips, eyelids, ears, genitalia and sometimes feet and lower limbs. The bare skin has a "shiny" appearance. The squirrel is usually in generally poor body condition and may have a heavy burden of parasites like fleas, ticks and mites.

 

We do not believe that leprosy is sufficiently common to pose a serious threat to the survival of red squirrels in Scotland. SQPV is a much more potent threat.

 

The risk to people from squirrel leprosy is negligible. Leprosy cannot survive outside the body and evidence suggests that 95% of humans are naturally unable to contract leprosy, even when exposed to the bacteria. 

What laws relate to squirrels in Scotland?

The Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 provides for duty of care for animals in captivity (live-trapped animals). This makes it an offence to inflict, or allow others to inflict, cruelty or abuse on a grey squirrel held captive.

The Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) makes it illegal to release, or allow to escape to the wild, any captive grey squirrel.

The Prohibition of Importing and Keeping Order 1937 makes it an offence to keep a grey squirrel in captivity except under licence.

The Grey Squirrels (Warfarin) Order 1973 does not allow the use of warfarin on grey squirrels for the purpose of tree protection in Scotland.

This is not a definitive guide to the legislation and you should refer to the original legislation if you need more details (hit the underlined links for each item of legislation (above)).

IMPORTANT

Do not attempt to trap or destroy grey squirrels without seeking advice first. If you are resident in our project area, we can put you in touch with your local Red Squirrel Conservation Officer who can offer you free advice and training on how to help control grey squirrels in a way that is legal, safe and humane. Please contact us for help.

 

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Help protect our precious

Red squirrels

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