Happy Squirrel Appreciation Day!

(SUPER cute video below!)

At the Phoenix Zoo’s Johnson Conservation Center, we celebrate squirrels every day.

Since 2014, the Zoo has been working to develop a pilot breeding program for endangered Mount Graham red squirrels in the hope of helping boost the wild population. While red squirrels in general are fairly widespread, Mount Graham red squirrels are only found in the Pinaleño Mountains in southeastern Arizona where the current population is estimated at a minimum of 109 individuals. While still very low, this is an encouraging three-fold increase from the 2017 census after the Frye Fire devastated the squirrels’ habitat!

Our staff has developed care guidelines for this squirrel subspecies and has observed breeding behavior. Unfortunately, no baby squirrels yet, but we remain hopeful! By gathering data on changes in squirrel behavior, hormones, anatomy and cell biology, we aim to improve our chances of successful reproduction. This work has been generously supported by an Arizona Game and Fish Commission Heritage Fund grant. We are proud to be working closely with partners at the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Arizona Game and Fish Department, US Forest Service and University of Arizona’s School of Natural Resources and the Environment on this project.

A recently published article in the journal BioScience describes the squirrels’ response to recent fire events. The conclusion includes a shout-out to the Phoenix Zoo and the unique role we play in species recovery. We’re grateful to the many dedicated scientists we collaborate with on this work, and are inspired by the resilience of the squirrels.

While we humans might not munch on pine cones to show our appreciation today, those of us with squirrel socks will be wearing them proudly.