Kansas City squirrels imported as part of late 1800s ‘fad,’ author says

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BONNER SPRINGS, Kan. — Love them or hate them, squirrels are a seemingly natural part of the city life landscape. But what if we told you they aren’t?

Kniggendorf is the author of “Secret Kansas City,” a book that dives into the interesting, and sometimes goofy, unknowns of the KC metro. One of those nuggets of information involves squirrel importing.

“It was part of this fad,” Kniggendorf said. “People just thought they were cool.”

It was in the late 1800s, and public parks were sprouting up through the cracks of concrete jungles across the country. Kniggendorf said William Rockhill Nelson, founder of the Kansas City Star and co-funder of the Nelson-Atkins museum, was also interested in squirrels.

“It was the cool thing to have public parks… and in other cities around the country, they decided that squirrels would add visual interest,” Kniggendorf said. “They would trap them, and it was a business.”

City leaders would import them from their native habitats in the wilderness and bring them into cities. It’s unclear where the squirrels first lived, but Nelson was apparently the driving force behind bringing squirrels to Kansas City.

Kniggendorf said people started feeding the squirrels they came across, which was a big reason squirrels began to reproduce and congregate in cities.

So, next time you see a cute little fur ball bounding across your lawn or up your bird feeder, you can thank one of the biggest names in Kansas City history.

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