A study by the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) under the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has projected that the numbers of the Malayan Giant Squirrel could decline by 90 percent in India by 2050, and if urgent steps are not taken, the species could be extinct in India in subsequent decades.
Considered to be a forest health indicator species, it is disappearing and may by the middle of this century no longer be found in the forests of India’s Northeast, to which it is native. Currently found in parts of West Bengal, Sikkim, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Nagaland, destruction of its habitat could restrict the squirrel to only Southern Sikkim and North Bengal by 2050, according to the ZSI.
Only 43.38 percent of the squirrel’s original habitat in India is now favourable to it, says the study; by 2050, the favourable zone could shrink to 2.94 percent of the are the species was meant to inhabit. The ZSI study says the health of the species is critical as it indicates the health of the forests it inhabits.
The species is listed as Near Threatened on IUCN’s 2016 list (International Union for Conservation of Nature) and it is protected under India’s Wildlife Protection Act.
The population of the squirrel in India declined by 30 percent over the last two decades. While the forest area in the Northeast increased by 7172 km² from 1987 to 2013, the region lost 628 km² of forests over the two years that followed.
According to the study, the Malayan Giant Squirrel and its habitat are under threat from deforestation, fragmentation of forests, crop cultivation and over-harvesting of food, illegal trade in wildlife, and hunting for consumption. Slash and burn jhum cultivation in many areas of the northeast contribute to the destruction of its habitat.
“We hadn’t studied giant squirrels comprehensively in this country so far. When we carried out this study, we realised that the Malayan Giant squirrel was fast losing its territory to human settlements and crop cultivation.”
“If the government does not come up with a conservation management plan, for the Malayan Giant Squirrel quickly, we may lose the species altogether in India.”
“The population of the species also indicates to us the health of the forest, of the vegetation and plants in the forest, on which the species feeds, as well as that of the other symbiotic species that inhabit the region.”
— ZSI Director Dr. Kailash Chandra saidThe Indian Express, Friday, December 4, 2020
Malayan Giant Squirrel
Ratufa bicolor, also known as Black Giant Squirrel, is one of the world’s largest squirrel species, that has a dark upper body, pale under parts and a long, bushy tail. It is diurnal, arboreal (tree dwelling) and herbivores.
Of the roughly 1.84 lakh km² of the squirrel’s range in Asia, about 8.5 percent is in India. It is also distributed through Southern China, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Burma, the Malayan peninsula, Sumatra and Java. It is found mostly in evergreen and semi evergreen forests, from plains to hills at elevations of 50 m to 1500 m above sea level. In India, some 20 percent of the population of the species is found at elevations between 1500 m and 2700 m.
India is home to three giant squirrel species. The other two — Indian Giant Squirrel and Grizzled Giant Squirrel — are found in peninsular India.
SOURCE : THE INDIAN EXPRESS