Red Squirrels Winning Battle for Survival
RED squirrels threatened by deadly squirrel pox, are showing signs of developing antibodies to the disease, it has been revealed. This is encouraging news for the red squirrel population of the UK, on the verge of extinction after being introduced to the plague by disease-bearing grey squirrel invaders. There are relatively few red squirrels left in the UK.
Now that red squirrels have been shown to be capable of having a natural resistance to the virus, scientists want to carry out research to find out how widespread the immunity is. They would hope that, just as some rabbits developed immunity to myxomatosis and avoided being wiped out, a pool of red squirrels will survive.
Alternatively, if resistance remains limited to a tiny proportion of the population, researchers expect to be able to develop a vaccine within a decade.
Dr Sainsbury added: “Immunity to the squirrelpox virus should give red squirrels a fighting chance against the grey invaders, without which red squirrels would undoubtedly be destined to lose the battle for survival in the UK.”
Red squirrels have disappeared from most of England and Wales, though they cling on in isolated pockets such as the Isle of Wight and Brownsea Island. There are estimated to be 140,000 left in Britain with most of them in Scotland and Northern Ireland – fewer than 15,000 are in England and 3,000 in Wales – compared with 2.5 million greys.
Red squirrels could be developing an immunity against a deadly virus which is threatening to wipe them out. Eight of the animals have been found with antibodies to squirrel pox. Instead of succumbing to the disease, they had fought it off and died of different causes, post-mortem tests revealed.