Patter of tiny feet at zoo good news for red squirrel
Belfast Zoo is celebrating the arrival of five red squirrel kittens following a carefully planned conservation scheme.
The newborns were first spotted at the start of July and visitors can now see them at the zoo's red squirrel nook.
The red squirrel is a small, tree-living rodent which is believed to have been present in Ireland for more than 10,000 years.
Many people are familiar with this native species, its bright red coat, creamy white belly, bushy tail and distinctive ear tufts. However, the red squirrel is in serious trouble. The population has dramatically declined due to the loss of its forest habitats, in addition to competition from the invasive grey squirrel, which carries a lethal pox virus.
Alyn Cairns, zoo manager, said: "Animals on our own doorstep are facing increasing threats and populations are disappearing at an alarming rate. Recognising this alarming trend, the Belfast Zoo team formed a native species group in 2004 to work on a number of native species projects.
"In 2012, following the culmination of many years of work and consultation with local wildlife organisations, we opened red squirrel nook."
The aim of the nook was predominantly to interact with visitors to educate them about this native animal and the risks threatening it.
He added: "We are delighted with the continued success."