Whether or not she knows it, Bebe the Prevost’s squirrel needs help finding a date — and local zookeepers have the perfect suitor in mind.
Bebe, the Greenville Zoo’s 7-year-old female Prevost’s squirrel, will soon be paired with a male counterpart from the Los Angeles Zoo in California, according to Greenville Zoo curator Keith Gilchrist.
Gilchrist said the 5-year-old male Prevost’s squirrel is being loaned to the Greenville Zoo on a breeding recommendation from the Species Survival Plan.
The Species Survival Plan, which is administered by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, matches individual animals from accredited institutions to ensure that a genetically diverse and self-sustaining population is bred in the event it is needed for a reintroduction program to save threatened or endangered species from extinction.
Although Prevost’s squirrel populations are stable throughout Southeast Asia, the species is considered vulnerable by some due to the illegal pet trade and deforestation, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Gilchrist said Bebe is currently rated as the third most genetically valuable female among the Prevost’s squirrel population in zoos worldwide. She was born at the Micke Grove Zoo in Lodi, California, in 2011 and relocated to the Greenville Zoo in 2015 as part of the Species Survival Plan.
Bebe’s unnamed suitor, however, was born at the Singapore Zoo and then sent to the Los Angeles Zoo in 2015, according to Gilchrist. He will be transferred to the Greenville Zoo this spring and then quarantined for about 30 days before being introduced to Bebe and her current roommate, a Palawan peacock-pheasant named Fez.
If Bebe and her suitor are compatible, they will likely produce offspring this summer, according to Greenville Zoo keeper Jennifer Stahl.
The breeding season for Prevost’s squirrels is year-round, but it typically peaks between June and August, according to Stahl. Females can have up to three litters each year, with one to four pups per litter.
In captivity, prior to mating, the male squirrel typically chases the female, emitting clicking and high-pitched vocalizations to which she responds with a similar vocalization and screeches as the pursuit continues, according to a recent study published in the journal Mammalian Species. This behavior continues for three to four-and-a-half hours with as many as 10 mating encounters taking place.
Once pregnant, Bebe will carry the pups for about 40 days before giving birth inside a nesting box, according to Stahl. Prevost’s squirrel pups are born naked, toothless, and helpless with their eyes closed, so the zoo’s staff will likely observe Bebe in the days following the birth to ensure she is providing proper maternal care, such as nursing.
Zoo visitors won’t be able to view the squirrel pups until they’re about 2 months old, at which point they will be fully furred and independent enough to leave the nesting box, according to Gilchrist. The pups will reach maturity after a year and be added to a list for possible transfer to another zoo through the Prevost’s Squirrel Species Survival Plan.
For now, though, visitors can enjoy watching Bebe in her exhibit at the Greenville Zoo’s Asia habitat, according to Gilchrist. The exhibit is located between the red panda and Amur leopard exhibits. A zoo map can be downloaded here: https://bit.ly/2MnbnzK.
“Any time of day is best as Bebe has a varied routine and spends her time eating, exploring, nest-building, and napping,” Gilchrist said.
For more information, visit www.greenvillezoo.com.
5 Facts About the Prevost’s Squirrel
Source: Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute
1. Sometimes referred to as the “Asian tricolored squirrel,” Prevost’s squirrels have thick, glossy fur with black on the back and top of the head, white on the sides, and reddish brown undersides.
2. Prevost’s squirrels live on the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, Borneo, Bangka Island, Rhio Archipelago, Sulawesi, and the East Indies. They live in lowland and montane forests, cultivated areas, and gardens.
3. The size of an average adult Prevost’s squirrel is 5 to 11 inches with a tail of 3 to 10 inches. They weigh about 11 ounces.
4. Prevost’s squirrels are mainly active at dusk and dawn. At night they rest in hollows in trees or on tree branches in nests built of leaves and twigs. They wrap their tails around them at night for warmth.
5. The approximate life span for Prevost’s squirrels is 15 years in human care.