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I've got you: A black squirrel; First one caught in the North East.

Byline: AMY HUNT

A TRAPPER believes he has captured the North East's first black squirrel.

Paul Parker has been involved in a controversial cull of grey squirrels for two-and-a-half years, which has seen 22,800 killed in an effort to protect native reds.

Now he claims to have found a black squirrel, larger and more aggressive than a grey, and a species which has so far only been spotted in the south of the country.

After a tip-off that a black squirrel had been spotted at a site near Rowlands Gill, Paul used hazelnuts as bait in an effort to trap it in a cage.

And after several days of waiting he caught this animal, which experts have said is the offspring of a pure black and a grey.

This means there must be a pure black squirrel living somewhere in the vicinity.

Paul said the squirrel, which he named Zorro because of the masklike markings on his face, was much bigger than a grey.

He said: "I've never seen anything like it, it is huge. Black squirrels are very elusive, as soon as they see you they're away. And it's very unusual for them to be seen up here. I will see if I can get hold of the black parent one now." It is thought black squirrels are a type of grey squirrel which has evolved thanks to a mutation in the creature's genes.

They have thrived in parts of the south of England by out-competing their grey cousins. Estimates show there could be as many as 25,000 in the east of England Black squirrels are difficult to catch because they are very good at spotting if anything in their environment has changed and are naturally wary. Because of their colour they are also hard to see.

The gene that causes the black in squirrels could also be linked to higher testosterone levels. There is anecdotal evidence that the black squirrels are more aggressive.

Paul, who works as head trapper for the Red Squirrel Protection Partnership, trains householders to use grey squirrel traps in their back gardens.

The aim of his work is ultimately to wipe out the greys in order that native red squirrels can thrive.

Larger grey squirrels carry the squirrel pox virus, which kills the reds, and also eat baby squirrels and birds.

Log on to www. saveoursquirrels .

org for details about the work of the RSPP or becoming a member visit www. rspp. org. uk Report sightings of grey squirrels to Paul on 07890 600 243..
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jun 17, 2009
Words:423
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