Feeder without pox virus

Feeder without pox virus

Scientific research published in 2012 and again confirmed in 2014 showed that Asian/European red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) infected with squirrelpox is even 2500 times more infectious than infected grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis). What's more important, the studies showed that pox virus was not detected in the saliva of infected grey squirrels while the saliva of infected red squirrels contained very high loads of pox virus.
Appearance of even one sick red squirrel in our feeder may lead to an outbreak in the whole red squirrels population in the area.
The aim of this action is to convince organisations and private persons feeding European red squirrels
to change the way they feed red squirrels to minimise the risk of infection with squirrelpox to these adorable mammals
Methods of feeding red squirrels should be verified in the areas where red squirrels live, taking into account the results of the above research.
For the benefit of red squirrels in the areas where they live we suggest "scatter feeding". It means that instead of putting many nuts in one feeder that can be used by many squirrels we suggest placing 10-12 nuts (hazelnuts) close to each tree – a quantity that a squirrel can eat at one time (or bury quite quickly). Such solution will statistically minimise the possibility of healthy animals getting in contact with pox virus even if there is an infected individual in the area.
Very often we can hear from some "red squirrel conservationists" or – even worse – read on websites of these organisations that disinfecting a feeder once a day (some say to disinfect it every couple of days) is supposed to deal with the problem. Such advice cannot be treated otherwise than as disregarding a serious threat to red squirrels – as practically everyone feeding wild animals daily would agree, knowing that in practice there is never a situation when one feeder is used by only one animal of a given species during the whole day. Usually a few and often many more animals of the same species use the feeder in a day.
Even though "scatter feeding" will not eliminate completely the problem of pox virus it can significantly reduce the possibility of its spreading.
And one red squirrel infected with squirrelpox is enough to cause an outbreak in the whole population in the area.
That is why we appeal mostly to:
1. Red squirrel conservation organisations – to change the method of feeding red squirrels and stop using shared feeders. We've heard many times in private conversations that "scatter feeding" makes it harder to take nice photos and takes a few minutes of additional work each day. British tax payers (and thousands of people with their private donations) pay you to have the wellbeing and health of red squirrels as your first priority.

Photos like those below, three years after the publications of research briefly discussed above – of which you are well aware as links to those papers can be found on many red squirrel conservation websites – really shouldn't be seen by now because not only do you risk the health of animals but also indirectly encourage other people – by publishing such photos – to feed red squirrels in a similar risky way.
Let your first priority be the health of red squirrels and only after that – nice photos!

Editors note:
We've received many e-mails asking "can grey squirrels be fed using shared feeders"?
Yes, grey squirrels can be fed using shared feeders because as research shows they don't transmit the pox virus via saliva*. The virus can be spread via droplet transmission (saliva) by European red squirrels* and for them "scatter feeding" should be applied – with no shared feeders. *(Warnock et al. 2012, Collins et al. 2014, ICSRS 2015)
2. People privately feeding red squirrels – to consider the serious threat posed by pox virus and adjust the feeding methods so that a red squirrel only gets as many nuts in one place as it can consume at once and/or bury quickly.
3. Sellers of squirrel food – to publicise this information. Maybe there is a possibility (it could be a marketing opportunity) to sell dedicated "feeders" for European red squirrels that could hold less quantity of nuts, at the same time reminding the buyers about the need for frequent disinfection of such feeders. Increase in European red squirrel population is also a good business for you. You may have less once-off profit from feeder sales but with the increase or red squirrel numbers you will make more profit from continuous sales of food.

  • Collins L.M., Warnock N.D., Tosh D.G., McInnes C. & Everest D. (2014) Squirrelpox Virus: Assessing Prevalence, Transmission and Environmental Degradation. PLoS ONE 9: 1
  • ICSRS (2015) New threats to red squirrels.
  • Warnock, N., Tosh, D., McInnes, C., Everest, D., Montgomery, I., Scantlebury, M., Marks, N., Dick, J., Reid, N. & Collins, L. (2012) Squirrelpox virus in Northern Ireland: quantifying the risk to red squirrels. Report prepared by the Natural Heritage Research Partnership (NHRP) between Quercus, Queen’s University Belfast and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) for the Research and Development Series No. 13/01.

Photo credits
ICSRS would like to thank Steve Tipton for allowing his photo to be used in the above article.