Tiny Dormice Get Full Health Check-Up Before Wild Release

Several rare hazel dormice at London Zoo (ZSL) were given their final health check-up on Wednesday, May 24, in anticipation of being released into the wild next month.

Conservationists at the zoo seek to reintroduce dormice annually to sites across the UK.

Dr Elyse Summerfield-Smith, health-check coordinator and wildlife veterinarian for ZSL,
said that while still common in mainland Europe, “UK dormice numbers have drastically fallen over the last 100 years — linked to the loss of habitats — and the British population is now mostly confined to southern England and Wales, leaving these iconic native rodents vulnerable to extinction.”

Footage released by ZSL shows the tiny rodents, each weighing just 20 grams, having their heart, lungs, eyes, ears, nose, teeth and fur examined, and a microchip placed under their skin.

According to Summerfield-Smith, ZSL has helped reintroduce over 1,000 dormice to 25 different sites across the UK over the last 30 years.

Maya Folkes, pathology and field technician for ZSL, explained: “During their eight-week stay with us, our tiny guests are getting the specialist attention needed to ensure they’re in top shape for their big day – from weekly check-ups with our vets to munching on salads of blueberries, carrots, and mealworms carefully designed by the zoo’s expert nutritionist. It’s exciting to know that in a few weeks’ time they’ll be starting their new lives, joining a long line of dormice now flourishing across the country as we work to restore this precious native species.” Credit: ZSL via Storyful

Video transcript


ELYSE SUMMERFIELD-SMITH: My name is Elyse Summerfield-Smith. And I'm a wildlife veterinarian and research associate here at the Zoological Society of London. And today, we're here at ZSL HQ, health checking 30 dormice that we've had in quarantine here for the past eight weeks. This is because they're moving to their soft release and finally into the wild next month.

During the health check, each dormouse has a 10 minute appointment with one of our expert wildlife vets. During this time, they have a full MOT nose to tail. We check their ears, eyes, teeth, skin, and fur. And we also weigh them and take some measurements. We also place a microchip, so that we can track them after they're released.

MAYA FOLKES: UK dormouse numbers have fallen due to the loss of their habitats over the past 100 years. The British dormouse population is now mainly in Southern England and Wales, which means that they're vulnerable to extinction. So for the past 30 years, we've been working to improve their population numbers and restore them back to the numbers they were originally were.

The dormice are at ZSL for eight weeks, during which they receive expert care and attention, preparing them for release. It's exciting to know that soon they'll joining a long line of dormice released into the wild, helping to boost our population.