WE just passed ‘Blue Monday’, officially the most depressing day of the year. Luckily, at the zoo, we’re celebrating National ‘Squirrel Appreciation Day’, and no one could be depressed in the presence of these cheeky, energetic critters.

It’s understandable that many visitors initially mistake our exotic squirrel family for a group of chipmunks. Looking and behaving almost identically, these small, stripy creatures are actually Swinhoe’s striped squirrels from south-east Asia, a completely separate species.

Used to living in the mountains, they’re quite happy in our climate, and can live outside with no additional heating. Proving this, our ‘family’ has expanded over time to 28, one of the largest groups in Europe. Since they don’t hibernate, they’re bundles of activity all year round- double the trouble!

This is why we’ve just finished a major expansion of their mesh overhead runways. Christened the ‘Swinhoe Expressway’, it’s been an innovative ‘3D’ use of zoo space; the tubes go all around the wallabies’ paddock, so look up and you’ll see them whizzing about.

Flying the flag for our native species, the zoo has been part of the red squirrel breeding programme for over a decade, with local MP Tim Farron opening the newest enclosure in 2017. They’re not in residence at the moment, as, in line with the coordinated programmes I’ve talked about before, our male was matched to another zoo.

As soon as we can host a new breeding cycle, we will eagerly welcome a group back. Until then, the super enclosure is certainly not going to waste- in fact, I’m busy preparing it to welcome another exciting native species that we have never had before. I don’t want to tempt fate, but hopefully I’ll be able to ‘let the CAT out of the bag’ next week.

Made virtually extinct by the Victorians introducing grey squirrels, Cumbria is one of very few places in the country you might be lucky enough to see a beautiful red ‘Squirrel Nutkin’ in the wild.

Squirrel Appreciation Day is the perfect opportunity to find out more about reintroducing and protecting these magical creatures, online or at the zoo.