By Don Corrigan
If you’ve been paying attention to the wildlife near your home, you may have noticed squirrels are going a little nuts. They’re in their pre-winter ritual of hoarding and burying acorns.
An animal expert who finds squirrel antics fascinating is Charles Hoessle, former St. Louis Zoo Director. Hoessle has been up close and personal with large, wild animals at the world-renowned zoo, but he has a real soft spot for – squirrels.
“We have two white squirrels, which are quite rare, living in the trees near my home,” said Hoessle. “I don’t know how they got here, but they do show up every so often and they do not seem to be bothered by all the gray squirrels.”
Hoessle has a hoard of photos of his neighborhood white squirrels that he has taken on his cell phone. This is quite an accomplishment, because white squirrels can be shy as they are very visible out in the open and vulnerable to predators.
The vulnerability of white squirrels has made them rare, but they are populous in one town in Illinois. Olney is the white squirrel capital of America and the town’s police will levy heavy fines if you harass or hit them, even accidentally, with your vehicle.
“I lure the white squirrels out in my yard by sprinkling some cracked corn around,” said Hoessle. “I can never tell when they will show up, but the corn seems to attract them.”
Hoessle, a Sunset Hills resident, joins morning coffee klatches in Webster Groves several times a week. His zoo specialty was snakes and a bronze statue of Hoessle sits in front of the St. Louis Zoo’s Herpetarium.
Hoessle is always ready to talk snakes, but these days he is also eager to talk about his squirrel friends – white, black, red or gray.
“We had some squirrels at the Children’s Zoo before it closed,” said Hoessle. “People were always donating squirrels to the St. Louis Zoo, because we did have a place for them there for a period of time.”
Hoessle conceded he is a bit of an amateur when photographing squirrels. Professional photographer Ursula Menke of the Webster-Kirkwood Times has photographed squirrels in her Webster Groves backyard for years.
She can offer tips about photographing squirrels. For example, good squirrel photos should be close-up to show their character, according to Menke. She said action photos are best.
“Squirrels make good subjects because they are just plain cute,” said Menke. “They are very cunning and will work very hard to get to at a food source, i.e., your bird feeder.
“They can be difficult at times to photograph because they are constantly on the move and you have to anticipate what they are going to do next,” added Menke. “This is what makes photographing them so much fun.”
Kirkwood’s Dave Slane has taken some of the best squirrel photos in the Midwest. That’s because, first, he is a professional tree climber and hangs out with the furry fellows. Second, he trained two squirrels, Toby and Knovac, to hang out in his office.
Slane’s office is of the dentistry variety. He has taken many photos of Toby close up with some of his patients, although not every visitor to his dental practice has been willing to pose with “Tobes.”
“In my younger years, I hunted squirrels like crazy,” recalled Slane. “I would bring them home and eat them – squirrel dumplings or fried. Then, I rescued Toby and Knovac as little babies from a tree.
“I bottle-fed them and loved them,” Slane continued. “They are very sweet when you ‘imprint’ on them as a parent. I even kept Toby at the dental office and had one of my patients, who just had a tooth extracted, come out in the yard to play with Toby.”
Nevertheless, Slane cautioned that squirrels are wild animals and do not make great pets. Also, rescued squirrels eventually grow up and have to be released into the wild, where they may not last long. Mother Nature can be cruel.
Rescue In Webster
Kathy Plurad, who lives near Blackburn Park, recalls a young critter her family named “Wallace the Squirrel” after a rescue and some taxing days of nursing the baby back to health.
“My son Michael found the injured baby squirrel on a driveway while he was jogging on Sylvester Avenue,” recalled Plurad. “My husband was friends with the Zoo’s Charlie Hoessle from swimming at the Webster YMCA, so we contacted him.
“Charlie put us in touch with the right people at the St. Louis Zoo for feeding instructions and squirrel care,” said Plurad. “We kept him in a comfy box, fed him rice cereal. We took him to the Children’s Zoo and they accepted Wallace the Squirrel.
Plurad said she’s sad the Children’s Zoo has closed. She said it was a good place to introduce kids to smaller animals. And it was a haven for refugee squirrels, like Wallace. Everyone needs to know more about the wildlife in their backyard, Plurad said.
“We don’t have a lot of small mammals at the Zoo,” said Hoessle. “I think a lot of people think: “Why do I need to come to the St. Louis Zoo when I have a bunch in my backyard.
“But I do think we could all benefit by knowing more about the animals we are living with in our own neighborhoods,” said Hoessle. “It’s surprising how much we don’t know about them.”
DON’T FORGET ABOUT THE SQUIRREL PHOTO CONTEST (BELOW)
Squirrel Photo Contest – Winners Awarded At Magnificent Missouri Event On Oct. 17
Squirrels are frantically flipping out and burying acorns. It’s their pre-winter thing. Squirrels are great photo subjects this time of year.
A squirrel photography contest is now frantically underway. Send your best squirrel images to the Missouri Nature Blog, EnvironmentalEcho.com. Limit of three photos per photographer, please. Deadline is October 15.
Squirrel photograph images should be sent on the worldly squirrel wide web to the email address: email@example.com. Photograph winners will receive Squirrel Baskets packed with plenty of squirrel goodies.
Three winners will be announced at the Squirrel Day Table at Magnificent Missouri’s Elevator Days on Sunday, Oct. 17 at Treloar on the Katy Trial. Shuttle will be available to take visitors to the Peers Store just east of Treloar on the Katy Trail.
Professor Don Corrigan will give a PowerPoint lecture on his book, “Nuts About Squirrels” at the Peers Store at 1 p.m. The lecture and his book detail the importance of squirrel characters in our American popular culture.
Email photos to firstname.lastname@example.org