Squirrel Pox Virus

The squirrel pox virus is responsible for the disease know as squirrel pox which presents in red squirrels with a mange, scab or myxomatosis-like symptoms, leading to rapid loss of body condition and subsequently death. The virus appears to be endemic amongst the UK grey squirrel population and its effects, if any, on this species are unclear. Nearly all grey squirrels with pox antibodies do not display any outward symptoms of the virus.

Northern Ireland, indeed the island of Ireland, unfortunately had its first confirmed outbreak of the virus in March 2011 in the red squirrel populations in Tollymore Forest Park, Co. Down. The Tollymore Red Squirrel Group believe their local populations have suffered a 90% loss in numbers.

A second outbreak was subsequently reported later in summer 2011 in the red squirrel populations in the Glens of Antrim by the Glens Red Squirrel Group. There have been no confirmed outbreaks in populations in other parts of the country which is positive although this could be down to level of activity of other groups, ie. not as well established and active. However, the FRSG is raising awareness and educating members of the public on this issue through meetings, press releases etc. Hopefully through this work, we will be alerted if a sick red squirrel is sighted which we can in turn report and follow-up on.

For further information on the issue and on how to identify signs of a squirrel with the virus, please download the information sheet developed by the Northern Ireland Squirrel Forum (NISF) .

If you manage a squirrel feeder or feed red squirrels in your garden, it is essential that you follow good hygiene practices to prevent the spread of the virus that may or may not be present in our populations already. Feeding stations where red and grey squirrels come into contact are a point of transmission of the virus. Once a red squirrel has the virus, it too can transmit it to its fellow-species.

The FRSG therefore insist that members adhere to the NISF’s standard operating procedures if maintaining a squirrel feeding station. This document (below) also covers trap hygiene if controlling grey squirrels (please also consult ‘Grey Squirrel Control‘ on this topic).

Further information regarding feeding station & trap hygiene

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