Squirrel pox, a disease fatal to red squirrels, has been confirmed in Tollymore Forest Park.
It has been five years since the first recorded death due to the squirrel pox virus in Northern Ireland in 2011. The decline of red squirrels in the UK and Ireland is blamed primarily on the effects of this virus as well as the loss of habitat and competition from grey squirrels. The disease itself does not affect people or their domestic pets.
The virus is carried by the introduced Grey Squirrel, which appears to be immune to the disease. There will be concern too in County Down as the Mount Stewart red squirrel population may also be vulnerable to this disease.
Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) Wildlife Inspector Declan Looney said: “The red squirrels in this forest had recovered well following the first outbreak five years ago but this is a further blow to them. Sick red squirrels will appear lethargic, approachable, with painful sores on their faces and paws. Unfortunately there appears little natural resistance to the virus within the local population and sick animals tend to die within 10 days to two weeks.
“If you have squirrels entering your garden to feed at bird feeders, please either remove these or clean them daily to reduce the spread of the virus.”
A spokesperson from the Forest Service, which is a member of the NI Squirrel Forum added: “It is not unusual for this disease to re-emerge some years after the initial outbreak. The fact that the red squirrel population recovered in the intervening years gives us great encouragement that working in partnership with the NIEA and the Tollymore Red Squirrel Group on the implementation of control measures will once again produce a successful outcome.
“We urge anyone visiting Tollymore Forest Park or indeed any red squirrel area to immediately report any sightings of red squirrels showing signs of the disease to the NIEA wildlife team or a member of the NI Squirrel Forum.”
Reports of the disease can be made at:
Tollymore Red Squirrel Group was formed in 2004 and further details are located at: