Mt. Graham red squirrels are native to southeastern Arizona and are only found in the Pinaleño Mountains of Graham County. They were thought to be extinct in the 1950s until they were rediscovered two decades later.

The Phoenix Zoo currently maintains a small pilot breeding population of Mt. Graham red squirrels, but our ultimate goal is to support the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) recovery efforts by providing young for release to boost the numbers of Mt. Graham red squirrels living in the wild.

The forest habitat of the Mt Graham red squirrel has been impacted by wildfire and disease, reducing the available food resources and cover from predators. This has led to a reduction in their wild population.

Indeed, it appears our joint efforts are needed now more than ever.

A recent 48,000-acre fire that burned over the summer in southeastern Arizona has whittled the species population down to an estimated 35 animals.

Arizona Senator, John McCain, has supported/encouraged provision of additional resources to help the Zoo’s ongoing work in saving this important subspecies.

In the first letter, sent to USFWS Acting Director Greg Sheehan, Senator McCain wrote: “I am concerned that current pace of the pilot program may not be sufficient to sustain or recover the population. We must expand options for augmentation through captive breeding and release.

Senator McCain also stressed the importance of immediate action, adding:

“I respectfully request that you review the program needs of the Arizona Center for Nature Conservation, which operates the Phoenix Zoo. Under its collaborative agreement with the Department, the U.S. Forest Service, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Zoo currently holds and studies five squirrels … I am confident that your continued support will greatly improve the chances of survival for this Mount Graham subspecies.”

“The situation for Mount Graham red squirrels in the wild is dire,” said Stuart Wells, Director of Conservation and Science at the Zoo. “Together with other wildlife specialists, we are eager to help. Our efforts to better understand red squirrel reproductive biology may enable us to produce squirrels for release to the wild to help restore populations decimated by recent disturbances. This work takes time and resources, and we appreciate Senator McCain’s call for support.”

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