The Edible Dormouse
So is this little chappie a nuisance, as I've been told ?
Living in Gironde for nearly 20 years, we had never heard anyone talk about the Loir ... except when talking about the beautiful Loire river and its magnifient chateaux.
Our first meeting with this new type of Loir began at the end of August, when we found a little grey animal with huge eyes in our front garden. He was very cold and wasn't in the best of form. We wrapped him up in a towel, and took him to the local vet for identification and care advice. A 'squirrel' they declared, and we came away having bought a box of puppy milk and several bottles and teats. He had to be fed every two hours - lucky for him we loved wildlife.
So began the cycle of boiling water and preparing formula milk, testing the temperature ... just as we had 20 years before for our own children. To feed this little animal day and night was tiring but a real pleasure, and day by day he began to drink more and more, and as a result became stronger and stronger.
As with grandchildren you take lots of photos, and we posted them on our family site for the children to see. As one of our daughters has worked in wildlife parks, we had to take her seriously when she told us that our baby squirrel was in fact a Loir.
So delving deeper it certainly seemed like our waif was a loir and not a squirrel. The loir is considered a nuisance because it likes to hibernate in wall cavities and lofts, but wouldn't you?
A few days later we found a second, but he looked a little weaker. He was offered his own box and fleece, a ‘hot water rubber glove’ and promptly started on the formula milk, however after a couple of days it was clear that he wasn’t going to make it. Perhaps he’d been out in the cold evenings too long. We later found sibling 3 and 4 but it was already too late.
We named number 1 ‘lucky Charlie’ and he was totally cute, sometimes suckling while cradling the bottle with his hands. We bought a cage, so that we could see what he got up to. At one stage he seemed to slow down and we thought we might lose him too, but after giving him a bottle of water, which he guzzled down, he soon perked up. But he’s now desperate to leave us, the inside of a cage isn't big enough.
The first stage of release was to put his cage outside, filled with branches and leaves, straw and hay. He needed to get used to the cold nights. The loir hibernates in the winter and 80% of them don’t make it, but we wanted to give our little chap the best chance.
It's difficult to let go, but as a wild animal, we had to open the cage door and let him choose. He went onto the river island where the brambles and trees give plenty of cover and protection from the birds of prey.
What happened next... see part II.