5 December 2020.
A first-of-its-kind study by the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) under the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, has projected that numbers of the Malayan Giant Squirrel could decline by 90 per cent in India by 2050.In the absence of urgent steps, the species could be extinct in the country in subsequent decades.
Highlights of the study:
- It is currently found in parts of West Bengal, Sikkim, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, and Nagaland.
- According to ZSI,destruction of its habitat could restrict the squirrel to only southern Sikkim and North Bengal by 2050.
- The population of the squirrel in India declined by 30 per cent over the last two decades.
- Of the roughly 1.84 lakh sq km of the squirrel’s range in Asia, about 8.5 per cent (15,635 sq km) is in India.
- The study shows that only 43.38 per cent of the squirrel’s original habitat in India is now favourable to it. ; by 2050, the favourable zone could shrink to 2.94 per cent of the area .
- India is home to three giant squirrel species; the other two – Indian Giant Squirrel and Grizzled Giant Squirrel – are found in peninsular India.
- In India, some 20% of the population of the species is found at elevations between 1,500 m and 2,700 m; the rest live in the plains and up to 1,500 m.
- 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 contributes to destruction of its habitat.
About the Malayan Giant Squirrel:
- Giant squirrels are scientifically known as (Ratufa bicolor) .
- Giant squirrels are diurnal, arboreal (tree-dwelling) and herbivorous.
- The Malayan Giant Squirrel is one of the world’s largest squirrel species.
- It has a dark upper body, pale under parts, and a long, bushy tail,
- The species is listed as Near Threatened on IUCN’s 2016 list, and it is protected under India’s Wildlife Protection Act.
- The Malayan Giant Squirrel 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 1,500 m above sea level..
Ecological Significance of Giant Squirrel:
- It is a “forest health indicator species”.
- 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.