Capturing squirrels behind a camera lens | Webster Kirkwood Times


Toby and Knovac take a break from hunting acorns for some good time and some brotherly love in the crotch of a Kirkwood tree. | photo courtesy of Dave Slane

If you’ve been paying attention to wildlife near your home, you may have noticed that the squirrels are going a little crazy. They are in their pre-winter ritual of hoarding and burying acorns.

One animal expert who finds the squirrels’ antics fascinating is Charlie Hoessle, former director of the Saint Louis Zoo. Hoessle has been in close contact with large wild animals at the world-renowned zoo, but he has a soft spot for squirrels.

“We have two white squirrels, which are quite rare, living in the trees near my house,” said Hoessle, who lives in Sunset Hills but enjoys meeting friends for morning coffee in Webster Groves several times a week. week. “I don’t know how they got here, but they show up from time to time and don’t seem bothered by all the gray squirrels.”

Hoessle has a bunch of photos of the white squirrels in his neighborhood that he took with his cell phone. This is quite an achievement because white squirrels can be shy as they are highly visible outdoors and vulnerable to predators.

White squirrels’ vulnerability has made them rare, but they are abundant in an Illinois town. Olney is the capital of America’s white squirrels, and city police impose heavy fines on anyone who harasses them or hits them, even accidentally, with a vehicle.

Hoessle Zoo’s specialty was snakes, and a bronze statue of him stands in front of the herpetarium, which is named after him. Hoessle is always ready to talk about snakes, but these days he’s also eager to talk about his squirrel friends: white, black, red or gray.

“I lure white squirrels into my yard by sprinkling some cracked corn,” he said. “I can never tell when they will show up, but the corn seems to attract them.”

Hoessle said the Saint Louis Zoo had some squirrels in the children’s zoo before it closed.

“People were always donating squirrels to the St. Louis Zoo because we had a place for them there for a period of time,” he said.


Kirkwood dentist Dave Slane and his patient Maddie Black are barking up the right tree for the squirrels’ company. Maddie now enjoys chipmunks in Arkansas, where she attends college. | photo courtesy of Dave Slane

photojournalist squirrel

Hoessle admitted that he is a bit of a hobbyist when it comes to photographing squirrels. Professional photographer Ursula Ruhl of the Webster-Kirkwood Times has been photographing squirrels in her Webster Groves backyard for years.

She can offer advice on how to photograph squirrels. For example, good photos of squirrels should be up close to show their character, according to Ruhl. She said action photos are the best.

“Squirrels make good subjects because they’re just cute,” Ruhl said. “They are very cunning and will work very hard to get to a food source, namely your bird feeder.

“Sometimes it can be difficult to photograph them because they are constantly on the move and you have to anticipate what they are going to do next,” he added. “This is what makes photographing them so much fun.”

Dave Slane of Kirkwood has taken some of the best squirrel photos in the Midwest. That’s because he’s a professional tree climber first and hangs out with the furry companions. Second, he trained two chipmunks, Toby and Knovac, to hang out in his office.

The Slane office is of the dental variety. She has taken many close-up photos of Toby with some of his patients, although not all visitors to her dental office have been willing to pose with “Tobes.”

Over the years, Slane has gone from squirrel hunter to squirrel lover.

“I would hunt them down, bring them home and eat them: squirrel meatballs or fried. Then I rescued Toby and Knovac as babies from a tree.

“I bottle fed them and loved them,” she continued. “They are very sweet when you ‘imprint’ them as a father. I even kept Toby in the dental office and had one of my patients who had just had a tooth pulled out on the patio to play with Toby.”

However, Slane warned that squirrels are wild animals and do not make good pets. Also, rescued squirrels eventually grow up and have to be released into the wild where they may not last long – Mother Nature can be cruel.


The rare white squirrels of Olney, Illinois, are true albinos, sporting white fur and pink eyes with crystal blue irises, according to the city of Olney’s website.

Rescue at Webster

Kathy Plurad, who lives near Blackburn Park in Webster Groves, remembers a young creature her family named “Wallace the Squirrel” after a rescue and a few grueling days of nursing the baby back to health.

“My son Michael found the injured baby squirrel in a driveway while he was running down Sylvester Avenue,” Plurad said. “My husband was friends with Charlie Hoessle from the zoo from swimming at the Webster YMCA, so we contacted him.

“Charlie put us in touch with the right people at the Saint Louis Zoo for feeding and care instructions for the squirrels,” he added. “We kept him in a comfortable box and fed him rice cereal. We took him to the children’s zoo and they accepted Wallace the squirrel.”

Plurad said he is sad about the closure of the Children’s Zoo, as it was a good place to introduce children to smaller animals. And it was a haven for refugee squirrels like Wallace. Everyone needs to know more about the wildlife in their backyard, Plurad said.

“We don’t have many small mammals in the zoo. A lot of people think, ‘Why do I need to go to the Saint Louis Zoo when I have a bunch in my backyard?’” Hoessle said. “But I do think we could all benefit from knowing more about the animals we live with in our own neighborhoods. It’s amazing how much we don’t know about them.”

Squirrel Photo Contest: Winners were honored at the Magnificent Missouri event on October 17

Squirrels make great photographic subjects this time of year. They are running amok and burying acorns, it is their thing before winter.

A squirrel photo contest is already underway. Submit pictures of squirrels to Missouri’s nature blog, Limit of three photos per photographer. The deadline is October 15.

Winners will receive squirrel baskets filled with lots of squirrel goodies. Three winners will be announced at the Squirrel Day Table at the Magnificent Missouri Elevator Days on Sunday, October 17 in Treloar at the Katy Trial. A shuttle will be available to take visitors to the Peers Store, just east of Treloar.

Don Corrigan, editor emeritus of the Webster-Kirkwood Times, will give a Powerpoint presentation on his book, “Nuts About Squirrels,” at the Peers Store at 1 p.m. The lecture and his book detail the importance of squirrel characters in popular culture American.

For more information or to enter the photo contest, visit