1. Background. The Northern Ireland Squirrel Forum (NISF) members have highlighted the need for a squirrel pox virus plan setting out procedures to be followed in response to a report of a red squirrel displaying suspect poxvirus symptoms. This short guidance note is intended to inform members of the NISF on the appropriate course of action to take should they be notified of a suspected poxvirus case.
Three recorded cases of Squirrel Pox have been confirmed in Northern Ireland (Tollymore 2011, Glenarm 2011 and Carnlough 2015) and one outbreak in the Republic of Ireland 2011/12. It is highly likely that outbreaks of this disease have passed through local populations of red squirrels unnoticed and it is no coincidence that the areas where the disease has been recorded are areas with active red squirrels groups.
2. Symptoms of poxvirus in red squirrels. During the early symptoms of the virus red squirrels appear lethargic, may appear in the open or on the ground more conspicuously and can hang around feeders. As the disease advances; skin ulcers, lesions and scabs with swelling and discharge around the eyes, mouth, feet and genitalia. It was noted by Tollymore RSG that the symptoms can present on the animal asymmetrically, with lesions only visible on one side of the animal in some cases. The squirrels become increasingly lethargic, observations by the Tollymore RSG indicate that they have a strong thirst reaction and spend considerable time drinking. Clearly these symptoms leave them very vulnerable to predators and those that escape generally die within 15 days. The virus does not seem to present any symptoms in the grey squirrels.
3. Information required. A member of the NISF may be alerted to a suspected poxvirus case from various sources either directly or indirectly. Attempts should be made to extract as much relevant data from the individual reporting the suspect case as soon as possible. This can then be investigated at length to assess the likelihood of a poxvirus incident. The following details should be requested were a sick squirrel has been spotted as a minimum requirement;
• Date and time of observation, • Location (address or grid reference), • Habitat (e.g. garden, woodland), • Symptoms noted, • Condition of fur, • Body condition report (V. subjective) • Approximate distance between observer and squirrel, • Contact details of the observer, • Contact details of the individual reporting the observation including phone and email address,
Where possible the observer should be encouraged to submit a photograph of the squirrel. Take photos from several angles to catch both sides of the animal were possible. This may help to discount the presence of poxvirus at an early stage or alternatively it could increase the level of concern.
4. Notification. Follow up action should be taken by the NISF member promptly if poxvirus is still suspected from the information received. Depending on the location of the sighting, there are two possible courses of action.
• Within Forest Service forests, Forest Service should be notified. Contact the area manager if known or John Griffin 028 6634 3124 E: John.Griffin@dardni.gov.uk who will arrange follow-
If the sighting is reported close to an area where there is an active Red Squirrel Group, NIEA or Forest Service will notify the Group and agree on how and by whom follow up action will be conducted.