One squirrel got a lucky break this holiday season.
The rodent, which was kidnapped from Utah by a truck driver and brought to Wisconsin, was returned home for the holidays. The unnamed Uinta ground squirrel got a ride back to its home state and is now resting at a wildlife rehabilitation center, the Associated Press reports.
"She has returned home for the holidays," Dalyn Erickson-Marthaler, executive director and wildlife specialist at the Ogden center, told the Standard-Examiner.
The squirrel began its journey when a truck driver lured it into a makeshift box trap at a rest stop on Interstate 80 near the Utah-Wyoming border about two months ago.
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“Apparently, the squirrels at that rest stop have become very used to being fed by people,” Gayle Viney of the Dane County Humane Society told the Wisconsin State Journal.
Brought hundreds of miles to Wisconsin, the truck driver intended on giving the squirrel to a family that would keep it as a pet. But after two months, it wasn’t a perfect union.
“It wasn’t mean; it was just, well, wild,” Viney said.
The squirrel was then brought to a wildlife rehabilitation program, but since the species is not found in Wisconsin, officials were concerned the squirrel would not survive. They were faced with two choices: either deport the squirrel back to Utah or euthanize it.
To save the squirrel from slaughter, officials reached out to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in northern Utah.
“They said they had a squirrel that needs to come back to Utah,” wildlife specialist Dalyn Erickson told the Salt Lake Tribune. “It was like, ‘Well, how did you get a squirrel that was from Utah?’”
Luckily, Kris Vaneskya, a former wildlife associate who was planning a backpacking trip out west, heard the squirrel’s cry for help and offered to drive it back to Utah.
Officials say the squirrel will remain at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah in Ogden until April. The goal is to keep the squirrel from going into hibernation.
"Because of her time in captivity, there's a good possibility she wouldn't survive the hibernation period," Erickson-Marthaler said. "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."
And while wildlife officials are using artificial sunlight to keep the squirrel thinking it’s summer, the center has asked the public what her name should be: Madison or Amelia.
Regardless of her new name, the squirrel’s homecoming journey highlights problems associated with capturing wild animals.
"It's a really bad idea, and it's not legal," Erickson-Marthaler said. "People should just take pictures and enjoy (the animals) where they live."