Banham Zoo boosts red squirrel numbers

A Norfolk zoo has joined the fight to save an iconic British animal after three young red squirrels were sent to a reintroduction programme in Wales.

The population of the red squirrel across the country has been decimated by competition from the colonisation of its American cousin - the grey squirrel.

But keepers at Banham Zoo are doing their bit to help the conservation of the red after three of its offspring became new additions to the Anglesey Red Squirrel Project.

The attraction, near Attleborough, which has a resident red squirrel couple, witnessed the birth of four squirrel babies earlier this year.

Three of the youngsters have gone to Anglesey to be reintroduced into the wild and the other has been sent to another wildlife collection as part of the captive breeding programme.

The National Trust-led red squirrel project at Plas Newydd began in 1998 following a cull of grey squirrels on the welsh island, which is helping to boost numbers of the UK's only native squirrel.

Craig Shuttleworth, national operations director of the Red Squirrel Survival Trust, said: 'We are thrilled that the hard work and careful captive breeding of red squirrels at Banham Zoo has been rewarded with the release of animals on Anglesey. The return of the red squirrel to native broadleaved woodlands is terrific, and will bring this enchanting creature into parks and gardens from which they were lost twenty years ago.'

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The indigenous red squirrel has become a very rare sight in the UK following the introduction in the 19th century of the American grey squirrel.

The grey squirrel not only competes for the same food resources as its smaller European relative, but also carries the parapox virus, which is known to be fatal to the red squirrel. There are estimated to be only 140,000 reds left in the wild in Britain, with over 2.5m greys.

A spokesman for Banham Zoo added they hoped their red squirrel pair will produce more offspring for the Anglesey project in the future.