The Black Squirrels of Kent State University

Every time I step outside to walk through the Kent State University campus, I am on the lookout with my camera close by. In 1961 ten cages containing black squirrels from Ontario Park in London were brought to KSU. They were released on the campus and it became their home. The most unexpected thing was that the black squirrels could mate with the local gray squirrels and the black gene dominated which helped the population grow. The students and staff at the university took a liking to the cute black fur-balls right away and started the annual Black Squirrel Festival, the Black Squirrel Run, the Black Squirrel Radio and many more Black Squirrel Somethings.

Squirrel is the New Black – Since 1961 was originally published on an expired domain created for the Kent State and Anglo American University‘s Journalism Program sponsored by Prague Freedom Foundation that I participated in during the Winter Semester of 2014-2015.

Being new to such a cold climate caused me to walk around campus at a quick pace and looking down to keep as warm as possible. It wasn’t until Candace Bowen pointed out that there were squirrels all over the place that made me decide to look up at a tree that I was passing and I saw one right away. This resulted in almost 20 minutes of me chasing squirrels from tree to tree trying to take a nice picture. At -18 Celsius this was not a good idea, but it wasn’t until my fingers were too cold to press the buttons on my camera that I realized that I was actually freezing and ran inside.

I have always been an animal lover and since there are no squirrels in Prague, I haven’t really gotten to see many of them. Now every time I step outside to walk through the Kent State University campus, I am on the lookout with my camera close by. It is amazing how many squirrels there are here, and that most of them are black. What’s even more amazing is the story of how they got here.

Speaking to the Dean of Communications and Information, Stanley Wearden, this morning I was told that there were ten cages containing black squirrels from Ontario Park in London. This was back in 1961. They were released on the campus and it became their home. Larry Wooddell and Biff Staples, the superintendent of Kent State’s land and a tree expert are the men responsible for this wonderful phenomenon. When the first release proved a success they went back for more cages. The most unexpected thing was that the black squirrels could mate with the local gray squirrels and the black gene dominated which helped the population grow.

The students and staff at the university took a liking to the cute black fur-balls right away and started the annual Black Squirrel Festival, the Black Squirrel Run, the Black Squirrel Radio and many more Black Squirrel Somethings. Three years ago, the squirrels celebrated their 50th anniversary at Kent, and they continue to live and thrive on the school’s campus. Hard to believe that Woodall’s “Operation Black Squirrel” turned into such a success. Walking around campus today you will find actual squirrels in almost every tree and running around leaving tracks in the snow – but you will also find black squirrel toys and other tokens of them on the desks of the university staff and in other unsuspecting places. I guess I’m not the only one who’s squirrel-crazed.

This post was updated on June 14th, 2018: the text, as well as title and headline, may have been edited, proofread and optimized for search engines. The featured image may have been changed due to copyright or quality issues.
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