Monday, 23 September 2013

Raising Rob - The world's cutest baby palm squirrel

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Read the article about me and Rob, an orphaned baby palm squirrel that I raised whilst filming in Sri Lanka for a BBC wildlife series. The article was published in Mail Online on 17th September and it spawned many more articles, including Die Welt, 20Minuten, Telegraph, and TV appearances around the world. Rob is now one of the most famous squirrels on the planet and my images of him have been seen by millions of people. This is Rob's story.

Rawr! Little Rob gets his voice as he prepares to take on the world.

I've now been in Sri Lanka for 3 weeks filming leopards and ancient temples for a BBC2 wildlife series called Monsoon. Two weeks ago, at 3am, we came back from our night shift filming in Wilpatu national park, and there in the dark was Rob the baby palm squirrel laying on the floor of the hotel car park. At first I thought he was dead but then I noticed a little twitch. I scooped up his weak and cold body and warmed him in my hands. I presumed that he had either fallen out of the nest, or had been kicked out by a sibling. My first hope was to reunite him with his mother. I put him into a secure spot as high as I could in the tree that I presumed he had fallen from. I covered him in a layer of tissue to help him keep warm and I waited. I had hoped that mum would be looking for him and would hear his little squeaks but by morning he was still there.
 9th Sept: "Cute baby Sri Lankan Palm Squirrel fell out of its nest. I've put him higher for mum to find. Keeping watch..."

I named him Rob after a colleague who had found himself in a difficult predicament on the same day.
The crew and I searched the area for any sign of a nest or other palm squirrels, but we didn't spot any. We then used our thermal camera which we are using to spot and film nocturnal animals in the park. It's great for showing warm patches where little animals are nesting. Unfortunately it showed us no thermal hotspots in any of the trees where Rob could have come from. I couldn't just leave him. He would have died if I hadn't have found him and so he became an honorary part of the crew.
 10th Sept: "Rob the orphaned baby Sri Lankan palm squirrel so tiny in my palm"
 10th Sept: "Rob the orphaned baby palm squirrel clinging to my finger - he's a lot more active today."
10th Sept "Rob the orphaned baby Sri Lankan palm squirrel seems to love sleeping in my shirt pocket "
11th Sept: "Rob explores! Hard to believe that this baby palm squirrel barely had any energy when I found him."

Feeding Rob
I've worked at animal rescue centres in the United States and I've helped to rehabilitate and reintroduce animals back to the wild. I knew the commitment that I was making. I consulted squirrel care guides online (this one was particularly useful) and then I started Rob on a dilute solution of salt and sugar to make sure that he was hydrated. I carved up a dust blower that we use for cleaning our camera sensors and used that to suck up and drip the water to him.

After a couple of days I had found a plastic syringe and moved to feeding him baby formula - which is common in this part of the world for feeding young babies. I'd read that milk was really bad for baby squirrels so I avoided that.

I know when he's had enough to drink because he squeaks and shakes head as if to say 'no more'.

12th Sept: "Feeding Rob the baby palm squirrel his breakfast"
12th Sept: "A big day for Rob the baby palm squirrel - I think it's for his bed. Tomorrow his eyes may be open for the first time".
12th Sept: "And here's Rob in seemingly his fave place - my shirt pocket! Orange baby squirrel poo stains included."
13th Sept: "Rob the baby palm squirrel is still tiny but he's quickly putting weight on"

Life amongst the crew
It's not the smoothest of worlds to grow up in as we are often travelling large distances in vehicles packed and loaded with kit, and we spend all day - and much of the night - in the field. I'm concerned about monkeys and stray dogs getting hold of him and so I tend to keep him in my breast pocket during the day so that I can keep him warm and feed him regularly. Occasionally he pops his head out, takes a peek and then snuggles back down. He started to show celebrity potential when tourists at the temples started paying him more attention then the ancient site that they had come to see.

Since he opened his eyes he's also become much more active and he doesn't like being in his box. He's jumped out more than once and to my surprise he ran straight into my hands where he curled up and fell straight asleep. He seems to be content and most relaxed when he's in the warmth of my hand, he squeaks and gently nibbles my fingers. Holding something so fragile isn't ideal when I'm trying to work! He also enjoys climbing on our cameras and sleeping in the most precarious of positions. I'm constantly watching out to make sure that he's safe. Rob is the most adorable creature that I have ever known, so cute, so precious.
13th Sept: "Rob slowly opens his eyes as the goggle eyed Yapahuwa dragon looks on"

Now that Rob the baby palm squirrel has opened his eyes he seems keen to study my camera settings.
And after all that studying Rob the baby palm squirrel is asleep on the job again!
14 Sept: Rob sleeping on the job again! It's an easy life when you're an extremely cute celebrity squirrel.
 Waiter! there's a squirrel in my tea' Cuppa & a nap for Rob the baby palm squirrel.
15th Sept: 'Tea cup carriage for Rob the baby Sri Lankan palm squirrel.
Rob in squirrel training - using me as a tree! He's starting to get very active
16th Sept "It's good to stretch! Rob the orphan baby palm squirrel at ancient Kuttam Pokuna Baths, Sri Lanka 
16th Sept: "Baby squirrel Rob snug in my hand. Apparently it's like the cosiness of the nest but it makes it difficult for me... 
17th Sept: "Rob the growing baby palm squirrel & I ready for another big Sri Lanka day."
17th Sept: "Goodnight Rob! The cutest baby palm squirrel all curled up my hand."
18th Sept: "Rob the orphaned palm squirrel may be turning into a teenager sooner than expected!"
18th Sept: "Little Rob the palm squirrel guarding our valuable Sri Lankan film rushes."
19th Sept: "Rob the orphaned baby squirrel prefers to be 'on camera'."
20th Sept: "Rob the cute baby palm squirrel discovers the comfort of the fluffy."
 20th Sept: "Little Rob the orphaned squirrel meets the Vatadage Buddah..."
20th Sept: "...and then falls asleep in Buddha's hands!"
21st Sept: "Rob in baby squirrel training preparing for a life back in the wild." My hand is always close by ready to catch him but I can't make it too easy if he is to develop and grow strong. A pampered squirrel isn't a long lived one.
21st Sept: "and ofcourse, after a bit of training Rob the baby squirrel takes a nap!"
21st Sept: "...and stretch. Rob the baby squirrel wakes up!"
21st Sept: "Little Rob knows who the real gaffer is"
22nd Sept: "Baby squirrel Rob's little smile. Still enjoying the warmth from our film rushes drive."
22nd Sept: "Baby squirrel Rob asleep at the wheel..."

When I get him out of his box in the morning he stretches, yawns and sticks his tongue out - a most adorable wake up to the world.
22nd Sept: "Each morning when I take Rob out of his box he starts the day with a cute stretch & yawn."
22nd Sept: "Rob the growing baby squirrel is getting more curious by the day. See - he is active sometimes!!"
23rd Sept: ""Wonder what this bit does" Rob the squirrel checks out our magical time-lapse machine!"

Rob's Future
Soon I return to the UK. My aim was to fatten Rob up, get him strong and then find a solution for releasing him. I can't bring him home, as much as I'd love to try. It would be best to be able to reintroduce him back to the wild.

Today I'll return Rob close to where I found him near Wilpatu national park. There's a hotel which has a large number of habituated palm squirrels that come to raid the tables when people leave breakfast. Here they're tolerated, there's plenty of food and there are trusted people who are experienced with caring for abandoned baby squirrels before slowly releasing them. 

In almost 2 weeks I've raised a healthy little squirrel and it's been a pleasure to have Rob join the crew. I'll miss my little friend and cherish the time that we spent together.

Rob seems sad to be saying goodbye.
But a growing squirrel has plenty more adventures ahead. Sooner or later a little squirrel longs to be wild... or at-least free to raid hotel restaurants when people have left breakfast!


  1. Amazing. I want one. Thank you so much for looking after adorable Rob and giving him a chance in life.

  2. Wonderful story.

  3. We love Rob. awwwwwww. Amazing work Paul. Wish more people were like you. xx

  4. Beautiful story Paul.

  5. Awwww, hope he'll be OK. You gave him a BIG chance at least. He's a cute little critter, isn't he ? Lovely story illustrated by lovely photos too.

  6. Wonderful. It's been a real treat to follow the exploits of Rob. So good of you to take the time and trouble to care for the little fellow. Bob

  7. You are an inspiration to people everywhere. Rob is a celebrity and I hope to see more of him. A book? A video? You are a star... p.s. I love the BBC!!

  8. Seen you on NBC NY. Amazing. Soooooo cute.

  9. great story, thanks for sharing!!

  10. Susie Taylor30/09/2013, 21:21

    Amazing work Paul. You are a modern day hero xxx

  11. we also fell in love with the palm squirrels when visiting Sri Lanka - the locals call them Anil or Lena, depending on the language (singhalese, tamil). At first, we just heard them making a sound like a bird, but more "digital" like an alarm clock, when we eventually found out that these wonderful furry creatures make these distinct noises, it made us smile. We even had one living in the thatched roof of our bungalow :) and I wish they could live in Europe too ...

  12. Hey Paul, thank you for the pics! You are just great! Would you marry me? ;-)

  13. They brought a report on Bob on our German TV Station RTL. Its amazing!

    1. Wow. I didn't even know about that one - do you know what date it was on?

    2. You Are Wonderfull !! If This world have more Humans like you, this Planet could be a wonderfull place ! Love you for that ! Great respect.

      Humans who cares about animals have a place in heaven !!

      greets from germany !! (i havent seen that show on rtl yet, Facebook brought me here)

  14. Daniel from Switzerland02/10/2013, 22:46

    It's so cute! Thanks for sharing the great pictures! I'd love to meet little Rob :) All the best!

  15. Elspeth, DangerouslyCuteTV03/10/2013, 11:02

    Amazing story.

  16. You are a modern day hero Paul. All men should take a leaf out of your book. Really lovely.

  17. Trop mimi ! J'en veux un pour mon anniversaire ! (Claire, 7 ans).
    Too cute ! I want one for my birthday ! (Claire, 7)

  18. More Rob-wonderfulness! Thank you.

  19. at the 5th week of robs life you left him where you found him instead of finding a rehabber :-(

    1. I never said that! He's in a good and trusted pair of hands.

    2. i was wrong & did not read the part that said
      "left with trusted people who are experienced with caring for abandoned baby squirrels before slowly releasing them."
      thank you for transferring him to local rehabbers after doing a great job helping,
      i am very sorry , for being an ass

  20. I'll miss little Rob too! He is sooooo cute! You did a such fantastic job for him, thank you for sharing these moments. Hope he is well and we'll have some news from his new guardian angels!



  22. We need more people like you in the world! Loving and compassionate!

  23. Such a nice story - I would wonder often how Rob is doing, if I were you! :) I don't think I'd have the strength to leave him!!

    I wish there were more people in the world like you.

  24. HI Paul,
    My mum rescued a tree squirrel from a cat several years ago. He was almost hairless and totally helpless. She could not find the squirrel mum, so she brought him in. She fed him around the clock, made him a little sleeping box inside a safe cage indoors and fed him around the clock until he started getting old enough to work the latch and run around the house. He was ready for the big-time. We built him a transitional outdoor enclosure with trees to climb and a tiny door. He could get used to being outside and we could feed him but other animals could not get him. He slept there and went out to explore during the day. After a while, he built a nest in a tree and left the enclosure. For about two or three years he would show up regularly and try to climb up my mum. He went on to have a regular squirrel life outdoors. I thought you might like to hear about a hand-raised squirrel that went off to live on his own just fine. Thank you for being so good to Rob and sharing your story!

  25. I didn't know they were called palm squirrels, I spent three weeks in Sri Lanka a couple of years ago and these little squirrels were delightful local characters along with the common minah birds and of course the giant squirrels! It's a country teeming with wildlife and you haven't lived until you've seen peafowl flying in the wild and landing in the trees. What a place!

  26. A Fantastic, heart-warming story. Good for you, Paul!

  27. What a cute and sweet story. Thanks for documenting it, Paul.

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