Red squirrel additions at Belfast Zoo

Undated handout photo issued by Belfast Zoo of two of the five new red squirrel kittens that have been born at the attraction in a major success for conservation efforts.  PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday July 28, 2017. The population has dramatically declined due to the loss of the tree-living rodent's forest habitats and competition from the grey squirrel, which carries a lethal virus. See PA story ULSTER Squirrel. Photo credit should read: Jon Lees/Belfast Zoo/PA Wire  NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.
Undated handout photo issued by Belfast Zoo of two of the five new red squirrel kittens that have been born at the attraction in a major success for conservation efforts. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday July 28, 2017. The population has dramatically declined due to the loss of the tree-living rodent's forest habitats and competition from the grey squirrel, which carries a lethal virus. See PA story ULSTER Squirrel. Photo credit should read: Jon Lees/Belfast Zoo/PA Wire NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.

Five new red squirrel kittens have been born at Belfast Zoo.

The population has dramatically declined due to the loss of the tree-living rodent’s forest habitats and competition from the grey squirrel.

Zoo manager Alyn Cairns said a male rescued by the PSNI had fathered the offspring.

He said: “Animals on our own doorstep are facing increasing threats and populations are disappearing at an alarming rate.

“We are delighted with the continued success of red squirrel nook.”

The native species has a bright red coat, creamy white belly, bushy tail and distinctive ear tufts.

The zoo’s red squirrel nook became home to three animals when it first opened.

Mr Cairns added: “The aim of the nook was predominantly to interact with visitors to educate them about this iconic native animal and the risks threatening the red squirrel.

“However, from the beginning, the hope was that the squirrels would be sufficiently content in the nook to breed.”

Success saw the release of some red squirrels into Glenarm Estate in Co Antrim.

The key to the formation of a successful breeding programme is genetic diversity so the zoo’s breeding male was therefore released in Ballykinler in Co Down in 2015.