Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Karamel the Squirrel

This spring, a young computer engineer in the province of Batman, Turkey found a squirrel stuck by its front legs in an animal trap. Many people would have simply turned away or, at best, put the injured animal out of its misery. But Ruzgar Alkan could not abandon the squirrel to her fate. Seeing that she was badly injured, he took the squirrel to a local vet in the capital of the outlying province. And when that vet told Alkan that the squirrel needed more expert help than he could provide at his clinic, the young man traveled with the injured rodent 700 miles by bus to Instabul. There she was adopted by experienced animal rehabber Tayfun Demir, who named her Caramel.

What happened next is truly remarkable. After discovering that Karamel's front legs were too badly injured and infected to be saved, Demir contacted a team of doctors at Istanbul Aymir University, who devised a plan to outfit the squirrel with a set of prosthetic legs.  After two operations, one lasting six hours, Karamel's front legs were removed and she was given a pair of wheels to move around on. The video below describes Karamel's rescue and treatment.

Of course, Caramel will never be able to live in the wild. But thanks to the caring and compassion of the people who have given so much of their time and resources to helping her, she has the opportunity for a happy life.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

On Beebz' Bookshelf: Are We Nuts? A Modern Fable by Gisela Hausmann

What could be more timely than a fable about political corruption? What could be more entertaining than a novel with squirrels as the major characters?

Are We Nuts? A Modern Fable takes place in a future that we humans can only hope doesn't come about. After a climate change-induced Great Flood, humans have vanished from the earth. Squirrels have banded together and adapted to survive the periodic floods and food shortages that ravage the land. On the eastern seaboard of North America, under the guidance of visionary leaders George Squirrelton and Benjamin Franknut, they abandon their scattered nests, establish communal settlements, and form the Sciurus States. Through several generations the squirrels continue to struggle until innovator Steve l'Squirrel discovers that the strange boxes that the humans left behind in their homes can be used to communicate with distant squirrel communities.

The story takes place in Nuttington, the prosperous capital of the Sciurus States. Young Harry, a descendent of the great President Theo Roosquirrel, lives with his great-grandfather, the eldest and most respected member of the community. Harry is educated, intelligent, and ambitious, and a bit frustrated with the routine of his daily life.

After finding a berry--a rarity in the post-flood world--Harry and Great-Grandpa believe extraordinary events are destined. Sure enough, the pair begin to notice unusual and troubling things taking place in Nuttington--strange activity centered around the facility where the smart boxes are maintained; odd conversations between political and business leaders of the community. It becomes all too clear that the Tribe Council isn't acting in the best interests of the squirrels it should be serving. Secrets are being kept. But what Harry, his Great-Grandpa, and nut-checkers champion Gary Logisquir must find out is just how big, and how far-reaching are these secrets.

Are We Nuts? has a great deal to say about the dangers of corruption in even the most enlightened and democratic societies. To be sure, the squirrels of the Sciurus States have a lot to teach us. For example, in the opening chapters, a young squirrel refugee arrives in Nuttington from a flood and famine ravaged land to the southwest, and is welcomed with open arms, an example that many of our own political leaders (right up to The Donald himself) could stand to emulate.

While the parallels between the Sciurus States and our own republic are obvious, this is more than just a political allegory. Are We Nuts? is as entertaining as it is timely and topical. The characters are likable and sympathetic, the action and plot development is perfectly paced, and the reader is kept guessing to the very end. I am left hoping that there will be more dispatches from Nuttington to come in the future.

Friday, June 29, 2018

A New Squirrel Book

I want to call attention to a new novel that features squirrels. Are We Nuts? by Gisela Hausmann  envisions a future world, devastaed by the effects of climate change, in which floods and famine ravage the land, humans have disappeared and squirrels have become the dominant species.

In the years after the great floods, the squirrels of the eastern seaboard of North America band together to survive their hardships, and form the Sciurus States. Learning to use the technology that the vanished humans left behind, it seems they have formed the ideal enlightened, cooperative society and left the troubled times behind. Or have they? As young Harry and his great-grandfather learn, the Sciurus States' leaders may be hiding dark secrets.

I will be posting a review of this novel in the next few days. I can tell you now that this is a fun read that is as relevant as it is entertaining.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The Tragic British War Against Grey Squirrels

The needless cruelty being inflicted on grey* squirrels in Great Britain is a topic that has become very important to me. One might think that as an American living in Texas, how the British treat their squirrels should hardly matter to me. But having spent time raising and caring for a rescued eastern grey squirrel, knowing firsthand how intelligent, expressive and affectionate these animals are, I can't help but care about any cruelty or mistreatment that affects them, wherever it might occur.

My rescued grey squirrel, Beebz

A number of groups exist in Great Britain that promote the extermination of grey squirrels in the UK under the cynical guise of "conservation." These include British Red Squirrel, the UK Squirrel Accord, Red Squirrels United, and others, including several regional groups. The primary activity of these groups is recruiting volunteers to slaughter grey squirrels, either by shooting or by trapping the squirrels, forcing them into burlap sacks, and then bludgeoning them to death (referred to as "humane" culling). The slaughter is referred to euphemistically as "grey squirrel control" or "grey squirrel management" but what it really boils down to is a pointless wholesale mass killing of intelligent, sentient animals who have done nothing to deserve their fate.

Native vs Introduced

To justify this slaughter, red squirrel groups rely on a package of lies, myths and misconceptions about grey squirrels. At the root of the anti-grey argument is the mistaken assumption that the red squirrel is "native" to the UK while the grey squirrel is an introduced or "invasive" species. This false dichotomy, native vs. introduced, ignores the fact that species have been moving from place to place as long as life has existed on earth, and assumes incorrectly that red squirrels have "always" been present in the British Isles.

The truth is, the current populations of both red and grey squirrels in the UK are of fairly recent origin. Grey squirrels were introduced to England in the 1870s, released by wealthy landowners onto their estates as a novelty ornamental species, and since then have spread to most areas of the British Isles.

The Eurasian red squirrel was driven to extinction in the UK in the 18th century by a combination of habitat loss and hunting. The species was then reintroduced from the European continent. DNA research confirms that the current population of red squirrels in Great Britain is descended almost entirely from squirrels introduced from Scandinavia within the last two centuries. It is safe to say that the red squirrel has no more claim to "nativeness" than the grey squirrel in the UK.

Demonizing the Grey Squirrel

Anti-grey squirrel groups in the UK rely on a number of myths and lies to justify their campaign of extermination. Two of the most widely-cited of these myths appear in a recent article by Bob Cartwright, an official with the regional group Westmorland Red Squirrels, that argues for the slaughter of grey squirrels in Great Britain's national parks.

First, Cartwright argues that grey squirrels are guilty of causing "economic and environmental damage to our woodlands," by stripping bark from trees, causing the trees to die. This argument has been used for centuries by the commercial timber industry, and in past times justified the mass killing of red squirrels just as it is used today against grey. The truth is, very few trees die as a result of bark stripping, and whatever damage does occur is outweighed by the benefits that squirrels--red or grey--bring to forests.

The new trees planted by squirrels through seed dispersal far outnumber those that are damaged by bark stripping. This creates a net benefit not only for squirrels but also birds and other animals and plants. Furthermore, bark stripping, while it may cause cosmetic damage to trees that is of concern only to timber harvesters, provides food and habitat that is beneficial to fungi, insects, birds, and numerous other forest species.

Cartwright's second argument is that the grey squirrel has decimated red squirrel numbers through the spread of squirrel pox virus, which, anti-grey squirrel groups claim, is carried by grey squirrels which are immune to its effects, and which is nearly always fatal to red squirrels. However, historically large scale outbreaks of squirrel pox virus in red squirrel populations do not correlate with the presence of grey squirrels.

In recent times, squirrel pox is responsible for a very small fraction, around two percent, of unnatural deaths of red squirrels in the UK. Far more significant causes of death are motor vehicles (53%) and domestic pets (14%). And these numbers don't take into account the effects of habitat loss through urban and agricultural development. It's clear that humans have a far greater responsibility for red squirrel declines in the UK than the grey squirrel.

Causes of red squirrels mortality: from the collection of research data from the last 20 years
by Shuttleworth 2001, Dutton 2004, LaRose et al. 2010, Simpson et al. 2013

Horrific Cruelty

Anti-grey squirrel groups like to present themselves as conservationists, working to protect a beloved native species against the predations of an outside invader. They like to use terms like "control" and "management" of grey squirrels to gloss over the brutality and cruelty of what they are doing. They claim their methods are humane, but how humane is a squirrel caught in a trap, confused and terrified, for hours or possibly days, then being forced into a burlap sack to be bludgeoned to death by a poorly-trained volunteer? How humane is a nest of baby squirrels left to die of exposure because their mother has been killed?

I linked to several of the anti-grey squirrel groups above in this post. Most of these groups have social media sites on Twitter, Facebook, and others. If you care about what they are doing to grey squirrels in the UK, please let them know what you think of their actions.

They are not enemies

*When writing about Eastern gray squirrels in Great Britain, I will use the British spelling grey.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Return and Reboot

This blog has been inactive for a good two and a half years. I stopped posting not long after my rescued gray squirrel, Beebz, passed away unexpectedly, and I guess I just ran out of ideas of things to write about, but I have been thinking lately about how to refocus and restart. Once upon a time this site was a fun hobby and outlet for thoughts and opinions, and I think it could be so again.

Our rescued squirrel Beebz as a baby, 2010

Beebz, a little bit older

My plan is to focus on three general topics:

  • News items, both fun and serious, relating directly to squirrels.
  • Protesting the British gray/grey squirrel cull and the misinformation spread about grey squirrels by so-called British "conservation" groups that advocate killing greys.
  • Environmental news and information, especially about climate change, which is not directly related to squirrels but affects wildlife in general, including squirrels.

I have recently received an advance copy of an upcoming novel about squirrels which I will post a review of shortly. I am looking forward to reviewing other squirrel literature as well.

I hope this will all be fun and informative both for myself and anyone who happens to stumble across this blog.


Saturday, January 23, 2016

NJ Woman Unjustly Persecuted For Saving Baby Squirrels

A woman in New Jersey is facing fines up to $1000 and even possible jail time for an act of kindness that should be rewarded rather than punished.

Last July, Maria Vaccarella and her husband took in a pregnant female squirrel that they found injured, possible after being hit by a car. They fed the squirrel until she gave birth to four babies, two of which survived. When the mother squirrel ran away, leaving behind the infants, Ms. Vaccarella cared for the babies in her home. She contacted a wildlife rehabilitator, who advised her to keep the squirrels until spring, when they could be released back into the wild.

The problems started  when Ms. Vaccarella wrote about the squirrels, who she named George and Lola, on Facebook. Her post attracted the attention of New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife officials, who came to her house in October, informed her that it was illegal to keep Eastern gray squirrels without a permit, and confiscated them. A month after that, she received a court summons with a $500 fine.

After recent publicity of this case and the appearance of an online petition, the State of New Jersey has offered Ms. Vaccarella a deal: she could plead guilty to the charges in return for dropping all fines, and just pay $35 in court costs. Ms. Vaccarella has courageously rejected the offer, stating "I can't plead guilty to saving a life. It's ludicrous." In response, the state has raised her fine from $500 to $1000, and threatened her with jail time. In addition, the Division of Fish and Wildlife has refused to give her any update on the fate of the squirrels.

If you agree that the State of New Jersey's persecution of Maria Vaccarella is unjust, you can click below to take action and sign the online petition on her behalf. Caring for helpless wildlife should be rewarded, not punished.

Read More: NJ 'squirrel mom' says she won't plead guilty 'to saving a life' |
I can’t plead guilty to saving a life. It’s ludicrous

Read More: NJ 'squirrel mom' says she won't plead guilty 'to saving a life' |

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Daily Princetonian Thinks Cruelty To Animals Is Funny

The staff of Princeton University's daily student-run newspaper apparently thinks cruelty to animals is fair game for comedy. This Monday, a blog called The Prox, on the paper's website, ran an article by Rebekah Shoemake titled "10 Reasons Squirrels Are The Worst." The post consists mostly of a series of .gif files with short allegedly humorous comments under them, illustrating reasons why the author does not like squirrels. Several of the .gifs were taken from viral videos, such as one in which a squirrel jumps on and wakes up a panda, and one where a squirrel is startled when it bursts a hanging water balloon. Ms. Shoemake also explains that during the recent winter vacation, squirrels got into her room and "trashed" it.

The end of the article takes a disturbingly dark turn. The last three .gif files show squirrels being hurled into the air by homemade squirrel catapult or slingshot devices. The slingshots in the second and third of the short videos look powerful enough that the squirrels were most likely injured or killed. In the second .gif the camera is at an angle where you can see the squirrel flying high into the air and then plummeting back to earth. In all three of the videos the squirrels were clearly lured onto the devices with food.

For obvious reasons, I am not showing the .gifs on this blog. I would not want to risk gratifying the sick people who made the videos. You can use the link above to view the Daily Princetonian article. I did a online search and discovered that there several videos on YouTube showing these and other "squirrel launchers" or "squirrel catapults." Of course, the videos don't show the aftermath, the squirrels dead or dying with broken bones and internal injuries.

I left a short comment on the Princetonian's article, and hope others will do the same. I have also expressed my disgust, and will continue to do so, to their Twitter feed @princetonian. I hope others will do the same.

At the very least, the Daily Princetonian should remove the article and let its readership know that cruelty to animals is not something to laugh about. The article's author, Rebekah Shoemake, makes it clear in her article that she finds the intentional maiming and killing of squirrels funny. In a mocking "disclaimer" at the end of the post, she makes clear that she is well aware of the consequences of the squirrel launching devices: "No squirrels were harmed in the making of this article... By me, that is. Squirrels were probably harmed in the making of the .gifs used. Please don't yell at me."

I think it's time to do some yelling. Cruelty to animals is not a laughing matter. Posting videos of animals being tortured, maimed, and killed as humor is not acceptable for any publication or website, much less for one run by one of the most pretigious univerities in the United States.