Chilli the squirrel is a red-hot lover

A RED squirrel sent to mate with two females at an Essex wildlife centre has been renamed Chilli - as he proved to be a 'red-hot lover'.

James Hore

WITH the future of the native red squirrel population in the UK more uncertain than ever before, the importance of breeding programmes cannot be underestimated.

Thankfully, in deepest Essex, one squirrel has been playing his part helping push the population numbers back up.

Chilli - so-called because he is a “red-hot lover” - only arrived in the county from Norfolk last week, but he has already made his mark at Wildlives Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre.

Wildlives, near Colchester, was donated two female “reds” earlier this year, so contacted the Red Squirrel Trust in East Anglia.

It arranged for a squirrel going by the pedigree name of Quinton to come visit. Hopes were not high initially when he arrived, but the Essex climate seemed to suit the young male.

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Owner of Wildlives, Rosie Catford, has already reported that both females, Nutmeg and Cinnamon, are both expecting youngsters - called kittens - at the start of May.

Such was Quinton's impact on the Essex girls, Ms Catford decided on the name change to Chilli, feeling it was more appropriate for the not-so-lazy Lothario.

It is hoped that Nutmeg and Cinnamon will have between kittens which will stay at Wildlives for about half-a-year before they are transferred to a specialist red squirrel project in Anglesey.

On Anglesey, the plan is to eradicate the grey squirrels, which carry a virus which kills the reds, enabling the native reds to thrive again.

Ms Catford said: “Chilli has certainly made an impact - we were expecting a lot of opposition at first but it was exactly the opposite.

“We have been told that what has happened was unprecedented and cannot be explained. Chilli will stay with us now and each time there is a litter, it will go to a grey-free area.”

Ms Catford said the red squirrels brought back memories of her childhood.

She said: “I remember when I was growing up in Sussex and there were the reds, but now you have to be right up north in the country to find any reds because they have been wiped out by the virus which the greys carry.

“The population of the reds really is in the balance and hopefully these breeding programmes can help redress this and hopefully Nutmeg and Cinnamon will have three to five little ones each, so long as Chilli is not firing blanks.”

David Stapleford, who supplied Chilli to Wildlives from the Red Squirrel Trust, said: “It was amazing - some people keep them and never see mating take place. Obviously the chemistry was right.

“The grey population seems to be irrepressible, breeding so rapidly, and that is why these projects are so important.”

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