A wildlife group is appealing to overturn an execution order placed on the head of a grey squirrel which has arrived in Moray.
The rodent sparked alarm when it was spotted in Elgin recently, with campaigners for the region’s native red species urging that it be killed to prevent it spreading diseases which could wipe them out.
But yesterday a national wildlife group, whose supporters have named the animal Elgin Sweetie, urged those seeking its demise to arrange a “humane solution” to any problems its presence may cause.
The creature, which was discovered on the western outskirts of the town, is the first of its kind to be seen in Moray.
The North American native has been making frequent trips to residential bird feeders and it is understood that it has been spotted aggressively forced a red squirrel from a feeder in order to acquire more nuts for itself.
The Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels group fears the grey could carry a squirrelpox virus deadly to native species.
The group has laid a trap to kill the creature so that DNA tests can be performed to ascertain where it came from.
But yesterday scientists spearheading research into the UK’s squirrel population mounted a quest to save Elgin Sweetie from death.
A number of wildlife groups, coordinated by the Interactive Centre for Scientific Research about Squirrels (ICSRS), have backed the move.
A spokesman said: “The Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels group tries to justify killing this animal by claiming that grey squirrels are a threat to red squirrels.
“But it does not have to be killed and we have many wildlife rescue charities offering to rehome it instead.”
He added: “We urge Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels to find a humane solution to their grey squirrel dilemma, since the alternative solutions already found make killing the beautiful Elgin Sweetie pointless – there is a sanctuary to take it and
DNA samples can be collected from a living animal.”
The ICSRS believe human activities to be more harmful to red squirrels than the influx of greys in the UK.
The group has arranged for the squirrel to be homed at the New Arc animal sanctuary in Ellon if caught unharmed, and say vets can perform DNA tests on it while it is still alive.