Squirrel pox virus in Ireland, 5 confirmed locations. Plea to report sightings

Press Release

For immediate release: 23 January 2012

Red squirrels threatened by the presence of squirrel pox virus in Ireland – plea to report infected animals

Red squirrels infected with the squirrel pox virus in five locations on the island of Ireland have been confirmed.  Confirmed reports are from counties Antrim, Down, Wicklow and Dublin. At one location in Northern Ireland approximately 90% of the red squirrel population was lost. In the other locations infected animals range from one to a few being reported.

The virus has emerged as a new threat to the red squirrel in Ireland. Red squirrels with squirrel pox virus rapidly develop myxomatosis type symptoms and die soon after.

Red squirrels are a protected species in Ireland but due to loss of their habitat size and quality and competition from the invasive grey squirrel, their populations have been decreasing in Ireland.

The squirrel pox virus is carried by grey squirrels but they do not appear to suffer from it. It is not clear why the disease is now turning up in Irish red squirrels. The disease is generally fatal to red squirrels and has been a significant factor in the decline of the red squirrel across England.

A species alert has been issued for the squirrel pox virus. Colette O’ Flynn, manager of the National Invasive Species Database is asking people to “please report all suspected sightings of infected red squirrels noting when and where you saw the animal. Look out for red squirrels (alive or dead) with wet, discharging lesions or scabs around the eyes, ears, mouth, feet and genitalia. If alive, they may be very lethargic in their behaviour”.  Mrs O’ Flynn notes that “if possible please also take and submit a photograph of the infected animal as this will help confirm the sighting”.

Sightings can be e-mailed to: invasives@biodiversityireland.ie or submitted to Alien Watch http://invasivespeciesireland.com/alien-watch/.  A message can also be left on 051 306248 but please also give contact details.

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Notes for Editors

Primary contact:  Colette O’ Flynn            Tel: 00 353 51 306240

Email: coflynn@biodiversityireland.ie Website: http://invasive@biodiversityireland.ie

Secondary contact:  John Kelly   Tel: 0044 785 906 8460

Email  john@invasivespeciesireland.com Website http://www.invasivespeciesireland.com/