Friday, February 03, 2006

Wake up! You've got to mate! (For 5 years!)

Daily Express 17/Jan/06 Page 21 By Geoff Marsh

No wonder he's looking pleased - this tiny dormouse has been charged with saving his race.

He will spend the next five years mating in captivity to help boost the UK's dwindling dormouse population.

The 3in - long rodent, nicknamed The Daddy, has been hand-picked by conservationists to spearhead the breeding programme funded by English nature.

Dormouse numbers have dwindled by up to 75 per cent over the past 100 years.

Conservationists launched a hunt to find a suitable candidate for the plum job of repopulating the species and discovered this 15 - gram specimen at Haldon Forest Park in Exeter, Devon.

Staff at Paignton Zoo fed him with hazelnuts and berries to swell his size to 25 grams.

Now he is sleeping off his feast until April, when females will be brought to him to mate.

The dozens of babies he will father every year will then be taken to parts of the UK, including the Midlands and the North, where the tiny creatures have all but disappeared.

Haldon Forest ranger Ian Parsons said: 'It's nice work if you can get it.

'Basically for the next five years he'll have all the food he can eat and as many females as he can handle.'

Officials say he will live for around five years. The hazel dormouse - muscardinus avellenarius - is a protected species that were once widespread throughout Britain.

Currently, the dormouse is found as far north as Cumbria and Northumberland, but the vast majority are found in the South of England.

The project to repopulate the species is part of the dormouse Species Recovery Programme managed by the people's trust for Endangered Species and funded by English Nature.

A spokesman for the PTES said: 'Dormice cannot travel between isolated patches of woodland, and therefore reintroduction and a sustainable programme of hedgerow conservation are essential.'