Kidnapped Utah squirrel returns home for holidays


The yet-unnamed critter is now recuperating at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah in Ogden, after hitching a ride back west with a former assistant from the Four Lakes Wildlife Center in Madison.

"They said they had a squirrel that needs to come back to Utah," Ogden wildlife specialist DaLyn Erickson-Marthaler told The Salt Lake Tribune. "It was like, 'Well, how did you get a squirrel that was from Utah?'"

The Wisconsin State Journal first reported the furry rodent's saga, which began when a truck driver at an Interstate 80 rest stop near the Utah-Wyoming border lured her into a makeshift box trap.

"Apparently, the squirrels at that rest stop have become very used to being fed by people," Gayle Viney, spokeswoman for the Dane County Humane Society in Madison, told the newspaper.

When she arrived in Wisconsin, she was given to a family near Madison as a pet. They surrendered her to a wildlife sanctuary after two months; things just weren't working out.

"It wasn't mean; it was just, well, wild," Viney said about the critter.

Because the Uinta ground squirrel isn't naturally found in Wisconsin, sanctuary officials worried she might not survive and decided she belonged with others of her kind. The species' range extends from central Utah to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.

While sanctuary officials considered sending the squirrel back home on a one-way flight, a former assistant who was heading west for a backpacking trip volunteered to give the squirrel a lift.

Erickson-Marthaler said the animal will stay at the Ogden center until next April, when ground squirrels typically emerge from a hibernation that can last for 10 months.

But for now, the center needs to trick her out of going into hibernation this winter.

"Because of her time in captivity, there's a good possibility she wouldn't survive the hibernation period," Erickson-Marthaler told the Standard-Examiner in Ogden. "She was kept for a couple months without getting a proper diet, and she does not have the fat storage to sustain her through hibernation."

Center officials are also trying to find her a proper name. They're taking a vote on their Facebook page to decide between Madison, after the city where she ended up, and Amelia, after the adventurous pilot.

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