Jerry Moss takes in a red squirrel kitten.
Jerry Moss shows us that there’s much more to his work than shooting
“The manager said he was concerned about a young kitten that had turned up that morning and seemed to be lost”
Every year since I started my role in red squirrel conservation, without fail I will receive a phone call or two regarding red squirrel kittens. These could be from a member of the public seeing them happily playing in the trees, thinking that they might be lost or abandoned by their mother.
Such a call came in a few weeks back from the manager of a local hotel set out in the countryside, with a lovely woodland area where the squirrel numbers are very good. The red squirrels visit the hotel grounds and entertain the guests who stay there and the manager said he was concerned because a young kitten had turned up that morning, and seemed to be lost. Adult reds had approached it, but didn’t seem to be showing it any interest, and it was trying to get into the hotel. It was in the garden close to an area where people were sitting and enjoying their morning coffees, all highly delighted to get a close up view of the kitten.
Please don’t touch
I asked him to monitor the situation for an hour or so and stressed, “Please do not let anyone pick it up.” I told him that I’d make my way to the hotel to assess the situation in an hour or so, and take it from there.
I made a quick phone call to Sarah, my partner, because I knew she would love to come along and see the kitten and I value her input because her husbandry in looking after squirrel kittens is fantastic –we’ve hand-reared a few now.
I picked Sarah up, made the short drive to the hotel, and as we walked up the steps to the garden, I looked over and could see the manager talking to a couple of guests. As I approached, I just knew what had happened; one of the guests had picked up the kitten and had it in her jumper. What can you do? I am sure intentions were good, and it was too late now as well, so after exchanging a few words, the kitten was now in our care.
When we got back home, the first thing was to sort out a hamster cage, and then Sarah made up some replacement milk – Lactol, puppy and kitten supplement feed - and offered the kitten some via a syringe. It always amazes me how they seem to just take to the syringe. We checked the sex of the kitten, female, and then placed her in the cage, where we had already put in some nuts, sunflower seed and small bits of diced fruit. The kitten was straight into the food, struggling to sit up properly, but at least she was eating solid food, which is a great help when hand-rearing a young squirrel, believe me.
We guessed the kitten to be about 8-9 weeks old because they don’t usually leave the drey to start their ventures out into the big wide woodland until that age, and over the next few days, the little red was offered milk twice a day, just to supplement her other feed, which she seemed to take with great pleasure.
Building her strength
After a week, she was moved into a bigger cage that has a bit of height to it, to encourage movement and climbing, and then after another week she was let into the big pen that we have in our backyard. In this pen there are branches of scotch pine, the floor has woodchip and bark, and tree stumps and various other items make the environment as wood land-like as possible. She has the choice of three nesting boxes to use, and a supplementary flip-lid squirrel feeder; basically, we go in and feed and water her, but that’s about it now so we can keep her as wild as possible with a view to releasing her back to the wild in a month or so. She continues to grow and build up the strength to allow this to happen.
It is very rewarding when you can bring a young animal on and give it a chance to continue with its life. Once back out in the wild, you never know what might happen, but at least she will have been given that chance. There are predators that will prey on the young, knowing that they’re not as strong or wise as the adults, and that’s why we fed her well to build her strength, and kept her in the big pen that let her exercise well to make her strong. We did everything we could and now she’ll have to make her way alone, and of course, we wish her well.
“She continues to grow and build up the strength to allow this to happen”
Above: Cones were very appealing
Below left: She appeared to like this nest box
Below right: The big pen let her climb and strengthen her muscles
Above: Sarah fed her with puppy milk from a syringe Above right: It’s incredible how they accept something so artificial so well
Right: Exploring the big pen came naturally
Left: Even this young, she knew what to do with the solid food we offered