Not all the tourists peering through the iron fence surrounding the White House are ooohhing about the architecture or hoping to catch a glimpse of the First Lady. Some are enchanted by gorgeous specimens of DC’s unusual black squirrel population. Locals love these black squirrels, legally migrated here from Canada over a century ago, and one of the city’s finest examples of cultural diplomacy. After being in the area more than 20 years, I still get excited to see one of these sleek little guys.
The facts, as with all legends, are a little squirrel-y, but basically, the story goes like this: the National Zoo received eight Canadian black squirrels, desired by the Zoo’s superintendent for his inventory, just after the turn of the century. A Washington Post article describes them as “so black they appear shiny, with exceedingly thick and heavy fur.” But instead of living in cages, these squirrels were released onto Zoo property, perhaps to stabilize a waning population in Rock Creek Park. (Apparently, grey squirrels were requested from Virginia at about the same time to right a squirrel deficit on the National Mall as well.) But the Canadian migrants were not only copious breeders, but intrepid travelers – it’s estimated black squirrels account for 25% of squirrels in DC today.