Norfolk red squirrel 'supermum' stuns Pensthorpe wardens

Red squirrel kitten (left) and mother Tortoiseshell (right) has given birth to three kittens in her latest litter

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A red squirrel at a conservation centre in Norfolk has stunned wardens by producing her 48th kitten in six years, despite having lost her first partner.

The seven-year-old, part of the East Anglian Red Squirrel Group (EARSG) at Pensthorpe, has given birth to three kittens in her first litter of 2014.

Wardens feared the squirrel, know as Tortoiseshell, would never breed again when her partner died two years ago.

Chrissie Kelley from EARSG said she is a "wonder-mum" doing a "fantastic job".

Squirrels leave the drey in Pensthorpe The kittens first venture from the drey after six to seven weeks

Tortoiseshell and her former partner Tweedledum were considered one of the most successful breeding pairs in the Pensthorpe Conservation Trust's history.

When he died in 2012 there was concern she might never breed again.

Her latest litter, which is beginning to venture from the drey, has two males and one female.

'So fortunate'

Ms Kelley, the trust's head of species management, said: "Tortoiseshell is simply a 'wonder-mum' of the squirrel world.

"She's been a consistently good breeder and is a fantastic mother to litter upon litter of her young.

"At seven years old she's doing a fantastic job - we're thrilled that she's managed to breed once again after losing her first partner.

Red squirrels

Red squirrels were once the only squirrel species in Europe but this changed when grey squirrels were introduced from America to the UK in the late 1800s.

Source: BBC Nature

"Red squirrels only survive in a handful of locations in the UK, which is why we're so fortunate to have successful breeding pairs here."

Tortoiseshell and her new partner Bryn are one of two active breeding pairs at Pensthorpe.

Janet Wickens, of the Red Squirrel Survival Trust, said the high number of kittens showed the mother was "obviously not stressed and enjoying life".

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