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HomeEnvironmentRare giant squirrel keystone species in India's forests | News | Eco-Business

Rare giant squirrel keystone species in India’s forests | News | Eco-Business

Don’t miss the call. A series of high-pitched and staccato calls echoes in the dense forest where it is found. Following the sound, the Indian Giant Orris (IGS) can be found on the high branches of trees in Indian deciduous, mixed deciduous, or moist evergreen forests. Its wide distribution within that range explains why IGS is listed. mild concern Category of the IUCN Red List.

But among the squirrels this giant is not doing well. Hunting and habitat loss through deforestation and degradation have pushed species to the brink of local extinction in some areas.

“IGS occurs in heavily fragmented populations. There are therefore no data on populations. However, studies show a density of 2.37 squirrels/km in southern India.2 12.26 squirrels/km2 It varies in different protected areas,” said Dhriti Banerjee, director of the Zoological Survey of India.

size matters

Of the four giant squirrel species in the world, three are found in India.Latufa Indica), black daisies (Latufa Bicolor) and a grizzly giant squirrel (Latufa Makrola). Of these, only the IGS (or Malabar giant squirrel) is endemic to India. It is found in the Western Ghats, parts of the Eastern Ghats and the Satpura Ranges.It is also the state animal of Maharashtra where it is called Shekl in Marathi.

IGS body lengths range from 254 to 457 mm. The length of the tail is almost the same as the length of the body. Each squirrel weighs about 1.5-2 kg. But it’s not just its size that’s impressive. Mammals can exhibit a wide variety of color patterns, with shades of black, brown and crimson being the most prevalent.

It’s also interesting that the fur of IGS varies depending on where it occurs, and even in the same location, it varies from individual to individual. is not in Maharashtra. But even in Maharashtra, two individuals of her in the same location could have different colors.

life in the air

The IGS is made for living in trees. It has large, powerful claws that can be used to grasp bark and branches. It is an acrobatic climber, often hanging on its hind legs and using its tail for balance while feeding.

Naturally shy and cautious, this species rarely descends from the canopy. Therefore, it prefers habitats with continuous forest patches, tall trees, and canopy connectivity that protect from predators and provide an adequate food supply. Regardless, IGS are also prey for raptors and sometimes large carnivores such as leopards and primates.

Sometimes conservation projects fail because the focus is solely on species, not the environment in which they thrive.

Anish Andelia, President, Wildlife Conservation Trust

Giant squirrels have two front teeth that grow throughout their lives. They mainly eat fruits, flowers, seeds, leaves, bark, and sometimes insects and bird eggs. “IGS shares a characteristic of rodents: gnawing. They gnaw bark and hard nuts, which is also a natural mechanism to prevent tooth overgrowth.” Book About dental management of captive-born IGS.

Role in ecosystem

IGS play an important role in balancing forest ecosystems by aiding seed dispersal. This helps forests grow and thrive, indirectly supporting local wildlife populations and significantly reducing human-wildlife conflicts. It is also an indicator species, and its existence is proof of a healthy forest.

“To thrive, you need a dense canopy and tall trees. Forest Report 2021 Status, forest quality has declined. For example, dense forests are less dense. Disturbed or fragmented forests tend to have an immediate impact on the numbers of this particular species, said Anish Andelia, president of the Wildlife Conservation Trust, in Maharashtra where he has worked extensively on IGS conservation.

Solitary in nature, IGS are usually only seen in pairs during the breeding season. Nests are made of leaves and twigs. These nests are built in tall, branching trees, mainly along rivers and streams. A female gives birth to multiple young, but often she is the only one that reaches adulthood.

Challenges and Threats

Being an arboreal species, IGS require access to a wide range of trees that provide fruit, insects and bark as well as breeding opportunities. Building roads and laying power lines, and cutting down old and tall trees adversely affect their populations. increase.

“It is completely forest-dependent (unlike palm squirrels, which live in modified habitats) and does not tolerate habitat degradation. That is what is causing their numbers to decline. Poaching is also a threat to the species, especially in the Eastern Ghats where new human settlements have been built,” says ZSI’s Banerjee.

born free

Another concern is that these giant squirrels are notoriously difficult to breed in captivity. It must be protected from disturbance.

“IGS are a very active species. Breeding programs in captivity are typically small in area compared to wilderness, which can adversely affect overall habits of jumping between tall trees. The lack of a complete diet they commonly eat in the wild also tends to be overlooked in captivity, which is sometimes presented with only soft food that contradicts their natural behavior of gnawing. A diet high in sugar can lead to tooth decay, just like it does in humans,” says Pande.

As such, IGS conservation requires a holistic approach that focuses on habitat conservation, identifying and protecting specific IGS-preferred trees, preventing habitat fragmentation, and reducing human intervention. “Sometimes conservation projects fail because they focus only on the species and not on the environment in which they thrive. “We need to encourage a more natural migration, and only then can this particular species truly thrive,” says Andheria.

This novel Mongabay.com.

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