Uncharitable-minded types know squirrels as rats with bushy tails. A Northumberland rodent named "Elvis" has done little to assist his species' public relations.
Elvis, an injured red squirrel, attacked a pensioner who came to his aid at the weekend, leaving the man needing hospital treatment.
Ernie Gordon, 75, a squirrel fanatic who wrote a children's book The Adventures of Rusty Red Coat, was called out last Friday to rescue the creature after staff at a local timber yard said they had seen the animal dragging its hind legs. Mr Gordon, a retired civil servant, is known locally for spending each day at Alnwick's Hulne Park, studying and hand-feeding the squirrels.
The animal was caught, after several attempts, by a girl who threw a towel over it and it was contained in a picnic basket. Mr Gordon took Elvis to the vet, where X-rays revealed he had a broken pelvis " hence the name. The six-month-old went home with Mr Gordon, who built it a small den in a straw-filled lawnmower box.
But when he picked up Elvis, he sank his teeth repeatedly into Mr Gordon's hands. "It hurt not a little bit, I can tell you," said Mr Gordon, after having a tetanus injection and a course of antibiotics. "You cannot believe the strength or pressure a little squirrel has in its jaw.
"A red squirrel can crack open an almond nutshell with its teeth so you can imagine how it felt."He took a little bit of persuading to let go but the fingers are fine and there's no hard feelings."
After the disagreement, Elvis moved out and is staying in the garage of a mutual friend in a nearby village, Rennington, where the author used to live.
Mr Gordon continues to nurse him, with promising results " contradicting the vet who had initially doubted the squirrel's ability to remain inactive enough to recover and survive.
Mr Gordon and his friend plan to release Elvis back into the local woods in four weeks. The author said: "This story is just absolutely lovely for the kids. It is a true tale."
An RSPCA spokesman said anyone who found a sick or injured squirrel should call the RSPCA or a local vet: "Anyone who finds a sick, injured or orphaned squirrel should resist the temptation to pick it up. Remember that squirrels use their teeth to crack open nuts, so they have a very strong bite."
Red squirrels are returning to parts of Aberdeen where they haven’t been seen in decades, as efforts to control grey squirrels start to take effect.
Red squirrels have been sighted in the past six months along the Deeside corridor in the Aberdeen suburbs of Bieldside, Cults and Countesswells.
The vast majority of Britons have never seen a red squirrel, according to a new survey which highlights how the native species has been decimated by the invasion of the grey squirrel.
Only five per cent of the population has ever seen a red squirrel in their garden, with that number falling to less than one per cent across the south of England and in the Midlands.
The species is more prevalent in its last remaining strongholds in the North-east and Scotland, where almost one in five people see them on a monthly basis, according to the first in a series of annual RSPB surveys on the prevalence of eight non-bird species in UK gardens.
However, even in the north of the country red squirrel sightings are well below those for their grey rivals. More than nine tenths of Britons have seen a grey squirrel in their garden at some point, with 71 per cent seeing them on a monthly basis.
An army of 5,000 volunteers is being sought to save the red squirrel from extinction by monitoring populations, educating children – and bludgeoning grey squirrels to death.
The Wildlife Trusts’ biggest-ever recruitment drive is focused on areas of northern England, north Wales and Northern Ireland where invasive grey squirrels first introduced by the Victorians are driving the retreating red squirrel population to extinction.
More than 2.5 million grey squirrels are continuing to spread north through England and into Scotland, out-competing the 140,000 remaining red squirrels and spreading the squirrelpox virus, which does not affect greys but rapidly kills reds.