Photo gallery: Meet Tortoiseshell the super-mum squirrel who has produced her 48th kitten

PUBLISHED: 12:40 25 April 2014 | UPDATED: 12:40 25 April 2014

A red squirrel (pictured) called Tortoiseshell has just had her 48th kitten. Picture: Ian Burt

A red squirrel (pictured) called Tortoiseshell has just had her 48th kitten. Picture: Ian Burt

Archant © 2014

A ‘wonder mum’ female red squirrel at a conservation centre in Norfolk has stunned wardens by producing her 48th kitten.

A red squirrel called Tortoiseshell has just had her 48th kitten. Pictured is one of the babies. Picture: Ian BurtA red squirrel called Tortoiseshell has just had her 48th kitten. Pictured is one of the babies. Picture: Ian Burt

Affectionately named Tortoiseshell, the seven-year-old squirrel has proved to be one of the greatest success stories of the Pensthorpe Conservation Trust, giving birth to 48 kittens since 2008.

Tortoiseshell and her former partner Tweedledum were considered one of the most successful breeding pairs in the trust’s history, but when Tweedledum died in 2012 there was concern she might never breed again.

However Tortoiseshell’s latest match with fellow squirrel Bryn has proved a successful partnership, with her latest litter producing three new kittens; two male and one female.

Wardens predict that the kittens were born between late February and early March and they are now starting to explore their surroundings.

The kittens venture from the drey after six to seven weeks of being nursed by mum and are fully weaned by 10 weeks old.

Tortoiseshell and Bryn form one of two active breeding pairs at Pensthorpe, near Fakenham, and are looked after as part of the East Anglian Red Squirrel Group, of which the Pensthorpe Conservation Trust is a member.

The other breeding female, April, is Tortoiseshell’s granddaughter who is also successfully nursing kittens.

Chrissie Kelley, head of species management for the trust and coordinator for the East Anglian Red Squirrel Group, said: “Tortoiseshell is simply a wonder mum of the squirrel world.

“She’s been a consistently good breeder and is a fantastic mother to litter upon litter of her young.

“At seven years old she’s doing a fantastic job; we’re thrilled that she’s managed to breed once again after losing her first partner.

“Red squirrels only survive in a handful of locations in the UK, which is why we’re so fortunate to have successful breeding pairs here at Pensthorpe. “By having her here we can highlight the beauty and character of this enigmatic species by capturing the imagination of our visitors and educating them on their plight.”

The East Anglian Red Squirrel Group aims to inform people about the threat to red squirrels and save the species from extinction.

The Pensthorpe Conservation Trust’s breeding facility provides the perfect environment to encourage red squirrels to breed and look after their young safely before they are either moved on to other members of the East Anglian Red Squirrel Group who need young animals or are sent off to be released as part of a coordinated effort to reinforce declining populations around the country.

Most recently, the East Anglian Red Squirrel Group has contributed to the re-population of red squirrels on the Isle of Anglesey.


  • The Pensthorpe Conservation Trust has purpose-built breeding enclosures for red squirrels built around existing trees and linked by overhead runs so that the environment is as natural as possible. When the time comes for the squirrels to be released it is as part of a managed release programme. For several years Pensthorpe has released young squirrels in Anglesey in North Wales; an area currently not populated by grey squirrels. Pensthorpe Conservation Trust works closely with the East Anglian Red Squirrel Group to support future breeding and release projects. If you’re interested in finding out more about what we do then please do come and visit us.

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    Pensthorpe Natural Park

    Friday, April 25, 2014

  • I am not directly involved in the Pensthorpe operation but I'm certain that they are released in special locations where they can thrive. They are certainly not bred for keeping as part of a tourist attraction, and if released in Norfolk they wouldn't survive. Not only do grey squirrels out-compete them for food but the greys also carry a disease which they are immune to but which is fatal to all reds.

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    gilded beams

    Friday, April 25, 2014

  • I am curious to know what happens to the kits. Are they confined in cages as part of a tourist attraction or are they released in Norfolk to face competition from the grey squirrel or are they released in special red squirrel suited locations?

    Report this comment

    Daisy Roots

    Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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