The Transylvania Times -

Love Of Squirrels Inspires Adoption – Brevard, NC


Last updated 8/12/2020 at 3:49pm

Evelyn Brooks traveled with her family from Charlotte to "adopt" a white squirrel. (Times photo by Matt McGregor)

Evelyn Brooks is just a girl who loves squirrels.

In fact, that's exactly what her T-shirt said: "I'm just a girl who loves squirrels."

When her mom, Stephanie, was trying to figure out what to do for Evelyn's 6-year-old birthday in Charlotte, an online search turned up Katy Rosenberg's White Squirrel Institute (WSI) in Brevard, a nonprofit research institute dedicated to the preservation and conservation of Transylvania County's white squirrel population.

"Our daughter is obsessed with squirrels," Stephanie said. "For her birthday, we were trying to come up with something creative to do and found that we live two hours away from where all of these white squirrels are."

Rosenberg met squirrel rehabilitator Sheri Blythe and the Brooks family at the Brevard/Transylvania Visitor's Center on Saturday, where the White Squirrel Institute is located.

There, Evelyn and her family got to meet the famous Super Bowl prognosticator Pisgah Pete and several baby white squirrels.

Evelyn said she loves drawing squirrels.

"I draw brown squirrels, and I draw squirrel houses," she said.

On meeting Pisgah Pete, she said, "He's so cute!"

For $25, one can adopt a white squirrel, and, just as Evelyn did, get a certificate adoption and a photo of the squirrel.

The funds go to the local white squirrel rehabilitation efforts, as well as assist in the funding that go toward the annual white squirrel count.

Rosenberg took over the WSI from the Heart of Brevard in 2018, and since she started fundraising on White Squirrel Day in 2019, she has facilitated 70 adoptions, which includes the 25 that were adopted this year on White Squirrel Day on Feb. 2.

White squirrels can be seen throughout the county scurrying about, dodging cars (sometimes), hanging out in trees and living free, but since they don't register to vote, pay taxes or have Facebook accounts, their numbers remain unknown.

(A lot of them even refuse to wear a mask.)

Rosenberg, however, wants to change that, and, according to her, the squirrels are more organized than they appear.

"There are 35 sectors of white squirrels within the original city limits," she said in a previous interview.

A white-squirrel sector is defined as the area, or radius, from which they store their food.

"They remember where they hide their nuts, so they stay within the radius of that sector," she said. "So, a squirrel in sector 35 won't be found in sector one."

The white squirrel sector mapping comes from the founder of the White Squirrel Research Institute and the White Squirrel Count, Robert Glesener, who was a professor of biology and zoology at Brevard College for 26 years before he passed away at 66 in 2013.

His last count was in 2011.

"I believe that Brevard's population has both the highest percent white (approximately four of every 10 squirrels) and abundance (1,000 white squirrels) of any known colony," he wrote. "The 1,000 estimate comes from estimates of total squirrel abundance using a strip census or line transect... multiplied by the percent white as determined by the annual squirrel count."

Rosenberg said Glesener saw value in white squirrels "not just environmentally, but financially."

"He thought it was important to count the squirrel population to see if they are decreasing or increasing, so it started with him doing a white squirrel count," she said. "My goal is to reactivate this count, whether it be this year or the next."

Glesener helped fund the project through white squirrel adoptions.

She said donation and adoption funds aren't just for conservation or preservation of white squirrels, but to raise money for the "unsung heroes" of wildlife rehabilitation.

"When an animal gets hit in the road, who do you call?" she asked.

In fact, Pisgah Pete was rescued by Susan Bieker, a bookkeeper at Moody-Connelly Funeral Home.

Sheri Blythe is a squirrel rehabilitator.

She found Pete after he had fallen out of a tree, and he was later rehabilitated by Jenifer Burgin.

"I thought that this might be a good way to help raise money for them, since everything comes out of their pocket," Rosenberg said.

In addition to raising awareness and funds for the white squirrel population count and local wildlife rehabilitators, Rosenberg said, bringing more publicity to the white squirrel population will bring more attention to Brevard.

And it has, because if it hadn't been for the WSI, 6-year-old Evelyn wouldn't have come with her family to meet Pisgah Pete, hold baby squirrels and create memories in Brevard with her family.


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