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Research shows new threat to Red Squirrels

Red squirrels in Scotland are facing a threat from a form of leprosy, as found by research from Professor Anna Meredith of the Dick Vet Exotic Animal and Wildlife Service.

Squirrel pox

Since 2006, Professor Meredith's team have confirmed six cases of the disease, caused by a bacteria similar to Mycobacterium lepromatosis, which is one of the bacteria involved with human leprosy. There is, however, no suggestion that there is any risk to humans

It is believed that the disease is widespread, as infected animals were found from the Moray Firth to Dumfries and Galloway but little is currently known about the spread of this disease.

Species under threat

Red Squirrels are in decline and are under threat from competition from the grey squirrel as well as disease such as squirrelpox. The finding of this new disease is another threat to conservation attempts.

This is the last thing that they need - another disease which could potentially threaten the population. Red squirrels are in decline and they are threatened by the grey squirrel and already face the major threat of the squirrelpox virus.

Professor Anna MeredithPersonal Chair of Zoological and Conservation Medicine

The red squirrel is protected in most of Europe and numbers have drastically declined in the UK with less than 140,000 individuals thought to be left. There are projects across the UK to help protect the red squirrels numbers.

Request for help from the public

Professor Anna Meredith and her team have urged the public to get in touch to report any sightings of squirrels that they believe may be infected to help them build up a more detailed understanding of the disease.

If you spot a squirrel you belive may be infected then please contact Professor Meredith on Anna.Meredith@ed.ac.uk.

Related Links

The Exotic Animal and Wildlife Service

Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels