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Squirrels in focus

G. Ananthakrishnan

International colloquia to consider new data

Chennai: There are now new insights into the ecology and biology of tree squirrels and flying squirrels. These species depend greatly on particular trees and have an extended range during fruiting seasons. And, they may be under severe threat in degraded forests in the subcontinent.

Scientists are set for two international colloquia on these two kinds of squirrels, to be held at the Periyar Tiger Reserve, Thekkady, Kerala, between March 22 and 29.

They will consider a wealth of new findings on the Indian or Malabar giant squirrel, the grizzled giant squirrel, southern palm squirrel, Formosan squirrel, and flying squirrels of India, Nepal, Japan, Benin and Siberia, among others.

Two flying squirrel species

There are two flying squirrel species in South India (including the endemic Travancore flying squirrel that was thought to be extinct but was rediscovered in 1989 after a gap of 100 years by a Zoological Survey of India scientist), and about 10 species in northern and northeastern India. There are 14 tree squirrel species in the country.

Says R. Nandini, a researcher at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore: "Tropical forests of Asia, Africa, Central and South America are the current centres of tree and flying squirrel diversity and endemism. India is high in squirrel diversity, ranking next only to Malaysia and Indonesia." She is a key organiser of the conference along with scientists Anindya Sinha and Robin Vijayan. Such a conference is being held in Asia for the first time.

Research papers on Ratufa indica (Malabar giant squirrel) propose that this beautiful tree-dwelling species extends its range during the fruiting season into territories of other individuals. These squirrels prefer particular rainforest tree species rather than just any available ones for nesting. And they may depend significantly on lianas (woody climbers that are often removed to plant trees) as physical pathways and protective green cover.

Threats galore

Based on studies in the Sitanadi Wildlife Sanctuary, the Forest Department of Chhattisgarh is calling attention, in a paper submitted to the colloquium, to the threats to squirrels from tree-loss on eroding river banks, illegal tree- cutting for honey collection and removal of bark and leaves in trees that are used for nesting.

The Wildlife Conservation Society, Bangalore, will highlight the importance of scientific techniques in research. The Nature Conservation Foundation, Mysore, will assess the impact of the fragmentation of the Western Ghats.

The Periyar Foundation, the Kerala Tourism Development Corporation and the Kerala Forest Department are aiding the effort.

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