Mount Graham Red Squirrels
and Christmas Trees

Written by Danielle, Behavioral Enrichment & Animal Welfare Coordinator

Behavioral Enrichment (B.E.) is anything that enhances animals’ lives. It is anything that stimulates the five senses: touch, sight, smell, hearing, and taste, and a given item can actually stimulate multiple senses at once. 

Our Conservation Technicians take every opportunity to use B.E. to encourage natural behaviors in the Mount Graham red squirrels.
And, the best part about B.E. is that it doesn’t have to be anything elaborate!

📸 : Jana, Conservation Technician 

The Mount Graham red squirrel is a subspecies that is found only on Mount Graham in Southeastern Arizona and lives in a forest habitat where they forage for seeds of coniferous trees.

This holiday season, our squirrels were lucky enough to be on the receiving end of a Christmas tree donation that allowed them to not only enjoy that fresh fir tree smell, but also the opportunity to climb, feel the fir bristles and bark, and taste the yummy buds on the ends of the branches. This is a perfect example of how B.E. can be utilized to stimulate this natural environment for this species. For those individuals in our Conservation Department, this is vitally important because the squirrels have the potential to be released out in the wild and if/when that day comes, we want our squirrels to be as prepared as possible. 

📸 : Jana, Conservation Technician 

Once abundant, the Mount Graham red squirrel’s population has been reduced due to habitat loss from wildfires and widespread forest pest infestation. The 2022 annual survey resulted in an estimate of 156 squirrels remaining in the wild. The Phoenix Zoo works on Mount Graham red squirrel conservation in partnership with Arizona Game & Fish Department, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, and the University of Arizona. The Phoenix Zoo is currently working to breed these squirrels in managed care, with the hope of releasing animals to the wild.