It was a cold October day in South Africa when a woman named Simone Serfontein saw a baby tree squirrel fall out of a nest. The little squirrel was scared and screaming for her mom, who was nowhere to be found.
“We honestly did not think that this tiny thing would make it, but we needed to try and help this baby,” Simone said.
The baby was so small and young in age that she scarcely had any fur on her body.
“When we picked her up her body temperature was very cold and she was obviously very scared,” Simone said. “Her eyes were still closed … We kept her nice and warm and she eventually stopped screaming.”
Simone didn’t want to leave the baby squirrel behind, so she took her under her wing. She named her Dingetjie. With Dingetjie’s entry into their lives, Simone and her boyfriend, Christof, had to learn how to raise a baby squirrel. It was sort of similar to caring for a human baby. They needed to feed her several times during the night.
“I did not really know anything about raising a baby squirrel and had to do a lot of research,” Simone said. “I never knew that raising a squirrel could be this hard.”
Simone made Dingetjie a little nest in a shoe box. Dingetjie couldn’t be left on her own, so, Simone had to take the little girl wherever she went.
“She went with me to work every day for the first three months. I normally fed her when I woke up and then get ready and then she got into my scarf, shirt, or anywhere warm close to my body and off we went to work,” Simone says.
Simone knew that she would have to release Dingetjie back into the wild eventually. She did, but the story didn’t end there.
“We live in the Greater Kruger National Park in South Africa and everything is wild around us,” Simone said. “There are many dangerous animals around us that she can run into and she needed to be ready for that.”
Even though Dingetjie was back where she belonged, she often came back to visit her foster mom.
“Every day for the first few months was a bit stressful saying goodbye; I always thought that this could maybe be the last time I see her,” Simone said. “But then every day when I came home she would be there either waiting or maybe she’d see me walking home from a tree or something and then a few minutes later she will run inside to come and say hello.”
Simone started leaving a window open so that the little squirrel could come and go as she pleased. Dingetjie was around six months old when Simone started noticing her belly getting bigger.
“We realized she was picking up a lot of weight,” Simone said. “We knew she made a few squirrel friends but also thought that she was not yet sexually active. We then discovered that she was pregnant.”
Dingetjie stayed at her human’s home for most of her pregnancy. She used toilet paper to create a nest in a drawer. Sadly, her first baby was stillborn. Then she got pregnant again. This time, Dingetjie built numerous nests in Simone’s home and ended up giving birth to a healthy baby girl.
“There is so much trust. She allows us to look, touch and hold her baby,” Simone says. “We never thought she would stay with us. But she chose to.”
Dingetjie spends most of her time outdoors now, but she knows that Simone’s house is a safe place for her baby.
“She’s such a smart and clever squirrel. I really think that it’s impossible to ever explain the relationship we have with her and the relationship she has with us,” Simone explains. “It’s honestly the most incredible thing I have ever experienced.”
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