Photo gallery: Meet Tortoiseshell the super-mum squirrel who has produced her 48th kitten
- Credit: IAN BURT
A 'wonder mum' female red squirrel at a conservation centre in Norfolk has stunned wardens by producing her 48th kitten.
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.
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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.
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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.