Two weeks ago a very cute and adorable mammal was found in County Kildare, a first of its species to be caught in the wild in Ireland.
The hazel dormouse, a non-native to Ireland was found sleeping in the Graham family’s converted tree house. Sarah was in the tree house doing some work when she found the tiny creature curled up asleep in a curtain.
Thinking it was possibly a baby red squirrel because of its golden-brown fur and large, black eyes she brought in inside and placed him in a box.
Sarah then called me to see if we could help. I then went to meet Sarah and I had a look into the box and to my utter surprise and shock, there looking up at me was a hazel dormouse.
I brought the little fellow back to the shelter and settled him in. The next day then I got in contact with a group that study Irish mammals to see if they had had a reports of dormice being found in Ireland, but they hadn’t.
We then got in touch with the National Parks and Wildlife Service. They had got one confirmed sighting of two dormice feeding from a bird table in a back garden two years ago and unbelievably it was also in County Kildare.
The dormouse we now have in our care was the first officially reported wild one caught. The dormouse, of course, is found in the UK and is rare there although through hard working conservationists they are making a comeback. It is a nocturnal creature and spends most of its waking hours among the branches of trees looking for food. It will make long detours rather than come down to the ground and expose itself to dangers there.
It is 6 to 9 centimetres long with a tail of 5.7 to 7.5 centimetres. It weighs 17 to 20 grams (0.60 to 0.71 oz), although this increases to 30 to 40 grams just before hibernation.
The hazel dormouse hibernates from October to April-May. It is a member of the rodent family but unlike rodents in this country they have a furry tail. They live in woodlands and hedgerows connected to them. They live on a diet of flowers for nectar and pollen, berries, nuts, insects, buds of young leaves and Hazelnuts, which is the main food for fattening up before hibernation.
As our dormouse is not native to Ireland he will not be able to be released back to the wild so he will live at the shelter for now in a suitable enclosure to fit his needs. I’m told that some studies will begin in the spring to see if there is a breeding population of dormice in Kildare.
It is unsure yet of how they got here or what effect they might have but hopefully the study will cast some light on it. Should you come across a dormouse in the wild please report it to the National Parks and Wildlife Service or ourselves and we will gladly pass on the information.
- Dan Donoher of Kildare Animal Foundation writes the weekly Pet Rescue Column in the Leinster Leader