Fears are growing for Derry’s dwindling red squirrel population after a dog mauled one of only 50 red squirrels left in the city.
Biodiversity Officer with Derry and Strabane Councils, Christine Doherty says the red squirrel - deemed a protected species by law - could completely disappear from the city.
Ms Doherty was speaking after the incident last weekend in St Columb’s Park in which a red squirrel was killed by a dog.
The protected species, which once flourished across Ireland, is now at serious risk due to a number of factors including the loss of habitat and disease.
It is understood that despite the red squirrel being spotted by a local monitoring group in Muff Glen, Gransha Woods, St Columb’s Park and Prehen Wood, only around 50 remain in the Derry area.
The council’s biodiversity officer says dog owners need to assume responsibility for their pets and keep them on a lead at all times in public parks.
“To do your bit to help save the local red squirrel population, ensure that you keep your dog on a lead at all times.
“The red squirrel population has declined rapidly in recent years due to the spread of and competition with the grey squirrel, disease, habitat loss and fragmentation.
“Without help, the red squirrel will eventually disappear from the city so we all have a responsibility to do what we can to protect this very special species, “ she says.
Meanwhile Derry squirrel spotters have been urged to be on the look-out after a second outbreak of the fatal squirrel pox was confirmed in Co Antrim.
Squirrels with squirrel pox have swelling and discharge from lesions around the eyes mouth and feet, and become increasingly lethargic as the disease progresses. Infected animals normally die within 15 days.
Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) Senior Wildlife Inspector, Dr Declan Looney says the public must “immediately report any squirrels showing signs of the disease to the NIEA wildlife team.”