The Red Squirrels are back!

The Red squirrels are back!! They are the native breed of squirrels in the North American continent. But when the Grey variant were introduced to North America, the red squirrels suffered a huge blow. Their numbers were decreasingly gradually and recently they dropped to an alarming rate. But a recent study reveals that after almost one and half centuries, the red squirrels numbers are on the rise.

5_red_squirrelThe numbers were getting dangerously low because of a pox virus carried by the greys, similar to myxomatosis, along with the greys’ superior adaptability.

However, a three-month study in 300 woodlands in the north of England has shown the number of red squirrels has risen by 7 per cent compared with the number in spring last year.


It is the first time in 140 years that a count of red squirrels has shown an increase in numbers. Volunteers for the wildlife group Red Squirrels Northern England (RSNE) also discovered that the number of grey squirrels was declining.

The future is less grey as red squirrels battle their big, bullying cousins 16 Nov 2011

RSNE said the red squirrels were revived by improvements to their woodland habitats. Conservationists have also started to turn the tide by spreading squirrel traps, then releasing the reds but killing the greys. Volunteers observed the rodents in Ambleside and Rydal in Cumbria for the first time in a decade.

Phil Bailey, of the Brampton Red Squirrel Group, in Cumbria, said: “The monitoring has helped us learn that there are now 20 squirrels close to our home here which inspires us to continue our efforts to save this native species.”

The number of red squirrels is rising rapidly in popular Cumbrian areas such as Skellghyll Woods in Ambleside and Betty Fold at Hawkshead Hill.

Simon O’Hare, of the RSNE, said the involvement of local people had been “crucial” in boosting numbers. “Reds are being seen throughout the area,” he said. “The effect on tourism is immeasurable. People never forget seeing red squirrels.”

Neil Salisbury, who owns Hawkshead Hill, where red squirrels were wiped out five years ago, said greys had been removed and reds were now using the feeders at the tea room.

The first grey squirrels were brought here from North America in 1876. More were introduced, notably by the Duke of Bedford to the park at Woburn Abbey, where they thrived.

The Narwhal

The Mysterious Narwhal.

Opening statement: Reticent medium-sized tusked-whale causing no end of mystery.

Name: If you’re named by the Vikings chances are you’ll have a rather foreboding moniker. The word narwhal comes from the Viking nar, meaning corpse, referring to the narwhale’s mottled grey skin.

Narwhals breach
Photo By Glenn Williams (National Institute of Standards and Technology) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Aliases: Monodon monoceros; a.k.a. Moon whale; a.k.a Unicorn of the sea. Neighbourhood: The Arctic.Distinguishing features: The tusk sticking from its snout is an elongated tooth. The narwhal then is a toothed whale or odontoceti (see also dolphin, sperm whale). But what a tooth. All males have these ivory ‘tusks’ that grow to about half the length of its own body, and about 15% of females have them, which are much shorter.(For more amazing tusk facts see ‘More amazing tusk facts.) It is important to understand all numbers are educated estimates because much of what the narwhal does is in inhospitable areas for human study. Furthermore, the narwhal’s skill-set is very niche-specific; any taken into captivity have subsequently died.Vital statistics: Full-grown narwhals can grow between, approximately, 13ft to 18ft in length. Thus with tusks, males can measure between 18ft to 28ft which, in the language of the deep, is ‘as long as the longest killer whale.’ Adult body-weight ranges from 1,500 to 3,500 lb. Again, in the language of the deep this is ‘up to four massive jetskis’, or if you prefer in metric, ‘20 pirate’s treasure-chests’. Me Hearties.Behaviour: The narwhal is migratory, at least until it dies when it becomes transmigratory (citation needed).  A good poem is transmigratory and here is an excerpt of ‘Enigmas’ by Pablo Neruda,You question me about the wicked tusk of the narwhal,
and I reply by describing how the sea unicorn with the harpoon in it dies. The narwhal spends winters in small groups (5 to 10) beneath deep pack-ice hoping polar bears don’t bop them on the head when they come up for air. Summers are spent in large congregations (500 to 1000) in the shallower waters off coasts (Canada or Greenland) where they’re prone to Inuits on a subsistence hunt for whom narwhal skin has vital fats and vitamins. 

Shelf life: It is estimated the narwhal can live up to 50 years.

Arctic-shelf life: Well funnily enough, 50 years. It is estimated arctic summer ice will hang around until 2060, maybe 2080, then all bets are off. Whether you believe global-warming is man-made or actually a conspiracy of the gods against the narwhal, the fact is that the narwhal’s habitat is about to change for good. A narwhal born today, all 5 ft 175 Ibs of orca food, and that lives to 50, will see more change in its life than all its ancestors put together (citation needed).

The 21st century theme: Potential catastrophe for the narwhal will be the result of a, probably short-lived, battle between Evolution and Revolution. Let’s break it down: the narwhal is a concoction of specialized evolution. It has a very narrow diet of halibut, cod, shrimp and squid and in their pursuit has become a streamlined, super-sleek sea-predator that can dive as far as its vegetarian whale counterparts (800 to 1,500m).

It’s, take a bow narwhal, the only predator to triumph in the deep beneath the vast swathes of pack-ice with as little as 5% open water. Evolution has made a beauty, but evolution’s slow place and tinkering for millennia is doubtless no short-term match for the speedily approaching revolution in the planet’s ecosystem. 

Pessimistic much? The human response to the melting arctic has been decadent to say the least. Unfortunately for narwhal fans everywhere, and of course fans of as much world peace as possible please, the arctic looks set to become a theatre in which empires play for resources. There has been a recent breach in the arctic’s neutrality and flags nailed into the ice as competing empires and their resource-extraction companies circle the territory, fins out.In the meantime, peer-reviewed scientific evidence regarding systemic catastrophe gets distracted in abstract fisticuffs with other theories pushed around by vested interests. For example, the discovery of an ancient narwhal fossil in deep pack-ice suggests the arctic used to be warmer and means global warming is part of nature’s cycle. Hurrah for the oilmen!

Some timely fantasy: Throughout the middle-ages anyone who was anyone wanted a unicorn horn. Unicorns had all kinds of magic powers and short of riding one bareback to Arcadia, owning the horn was the next best thing. This was lucky for traders of the narwhal tusk which sold for loadsamoney; Queen Elizabeth had one, and most of the unicorn horns displayed in the many and very popular ‘cabinet of curiosities’ touring Europe at the time have later been identified as narwhal tusks.

Narwhal Horn
Photo by Brian Suda

More amazing tusk facts: Hollow, slightly flexible, very mysterious. What’s it for? At the theories pick n’ mix you can choose: establishing dominance in groups; breaking sea-ice; or my favourite, for better picking up song – in the underwater X Factor narwhals are among the most accomplished, their song a complicated come-hither of clicks, whistles and pops.

Closing argument: The narwhal teaches us that less is more. Save the Narwhals, Long live the Narwhal.Narwhal Breach photo by Glenn Williams (National Institute of Standards and Technology) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons