Photos of chubby squirrels eagerly reaching for human food have made the rounds on Chinese social media under the hashtag #FatLittleWestLakeSquirrels.
Animal experts from the Hangzhou Zoo warned visitors at West Lake, a popular tourist attraction in China, that excessively feeding squirrels could affect their livers, reproductive capacities and may even decrease their ability to hide from predators, according to CCTV News.
Feeding squirrels is a popular activity among West Lake visitors, with tourists often being seen putting food on sticks, including bread, crispy chips, crops and other junk food.
While the obesity epidemic continues to be a growing concern in China, there has been a surge of chubby squirrels being spotted in different countries around the world. Abnormally portly squirrels also made U.K. headlines back in January, while Canadians saw the trend in December 2015.
According to the Shanghaiist, Chinese netizens took to Weibo to express their opinions. “Roly poly! So cute!” one user exclaimed. Another person poked fun at the squirrels’ weight, suggesting that they “go on a diet.” Others thought the creatures looked like giant rodents, at first glance.
Although being fed by humans is a contributing factor, an unseasonably mild winter on both continents has caused the voluminous size of the creatures.
Squirrels tend to pack on the pounds because they do not hibernate in winter. But they’re not fond of the bitter cold weather either, so squirrels rely on extra fat reserves to assist them in making it through the season.
“With the extra layers of fat and thicker winter coat this can make them look much bigger,” said TV presenter and wildlife expert Iolo Williams.
Despite concerns from the Hangzhou Zoo, animal expert David Sugarman of the Ontario Science Center reassured that people should not worry about obese squirrels. The extra layer of fat might make some a bit slower and less agile, though.
“If the squirrel were able to stay chubby all year round, it might decrease its longevity,” Sugarman explained to Metro. “But eventually the snow is going to come, the cold weather will increase and they’re going to burn off some of that extra fat.”