Two red-tailed squirrels were making a home for themselves in a field among coconut and mango trees in Bequia.
But both animals are now considered to be dead after the Forestry division took steps to cull them.
“…An exotic species in a very small island like Bequia could be potential for problems,” Director Forestry Fitzgerald Providence commented yesterday, and he noted that once squirrels get into a new environment they can take over.
The news of the presence of the red-tailed squirrel (Sciurus granatensis), which usually resides in a subtropical climate and countries across South and Central America, was brought to light when a Bequia resident made a post about them on Facebook.
Subsequently, around seven forestry officers travelled to the Grenadine Island on Wednesday December 1, to an area called Thomas Hill leading to Spring.
There they observed the squirrels in a field and “scurrying in and out of a tree.”
The report was of two squirrels, and two were observed on that day. A female squirrel was culled, and its carcass kept for the purpose of carrying out a necropsy.
Part of the reason for a necropsy would be to determine whether it was carrying any diseases, Providence explained, but added, “we didn’t pick up any known diseases that could come in with the squirrel at the time, but we’re following up in terms of the investigation.”
The sex of the other squirrel was not determined as it was only injured and no carcass was collected.
In terms of whether or not this squirrel may have lived, the Director noted that the animal has a high metabolic rate, and “the officer stayed around for a while to see if it will come back to feed, and they didn’t find that it came back. That means that it was probably seriously injured or died, it’s just that they didn’t see it at the time.”
The Forestry Division had written in a post one day after the culling that “the animals were brought to the island without an importation permit, veterinary and or health certificates. That introduction was an irresponsible and illegal act.”
“We tend to do some very irresponsible acts in terms of bringing in plants and animals without the proper certification or phytosanitary checks,” Providence said yesterday. He said while other invasive species such as the Norway rat and the Anolis Sagrei came into St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) by hiding away on ships and containers, “I can’t see a squirrel hiding on a ship or a boat and coming in without people noticing it.”
However, while they began some investigative work in Bequia last week, they were not able to uncover any information as yet as to who may be responsible for the presence of that species of the rodent family on the island.
The Director also noted that persons who look at the television may realise that there are concerns in the Florida Everglades with exotic species like anacondas that are causing problems.
“…Persons bring in animals as pets and then they release them into the wild because they either get too big for them or they can’t control them. So instead of calling the authorities and getting some guidance on them because they may have brought them in illegally, they just let them go in the wild,” Providence stated.
“We’ve not only had problems with these squirrels, but we have had turtles released in our streams, little pet turtles, and they get away then they eat all the aquatic animals in our streams and rivers, and then persons’ livelihoods are impacted.”
In the case of these squirrels, “persons were concerned they were eating all their young coconuts, and coconut water is a livelihood here in St Vincent. So if you have squirrels eating all the baby coconuts then you would have no coconut water. Also they were biting the mangoes…”
Providence described them as very energetic animals which always need to be feeding.
“…If we have squirrels eating up all the mangoes and also eating up all the coconut then the price goes up and then persons can’t enjoy the pleasure of having a coconut water,” he offered as an example.
Therefore, he emphasised, “persons should not bring in pet animals without the proper certification and permission to bring them in, and if they get out of control they must not release them into the wild because they can become a problem immediately and in the near future.”