Here's some good news for nature lovers! The population of the Indian Giant Squirrel in the Bhimashankar Sanctuary in Pune district has shown an impressive 10% increase, taking the number of this rare species to over 1,200.
The Indian Giant Squirrel is Maharashtra's wildlife emblem and state animal. The Bhimashankar Wildlife Sanctuary is one of the better known homes of this species. Nearly 2ft long, the Indian Giant Squirrel has a 2ft-long bushy tail. In Maharashtra, this species has a brown and golden coat, whereas the giant squirrels found in Madhya Pradesh and Kerala are brick-red and black, respectively. Giant squirrels generally have white fur on their underbelly. This keeps them camouflaged from prey that is looking at them from under a tree. A typical Indian Giant Squirrel weighs about 1.5 to 2kgs and is known for its distinctive rounded ears and a pronounced inner paw on its forelimbs. Giant Squirrels are arboreal in nature, which means they live on the upper canopy of trees. They almost never come down to the ground. Their large and long tails are used as a counterweight to help them keep their balance as they perch on thin branches and "fly" between trees. These animals can leap up to 6mts between branches. Many locals in the Bhimashankar area call them flying squirrels. Being diurnal animals, they are active during the day and rest at night. They are shy and wary and not easy to spot.
Giant Squirrels are solitary creatures and are cautious by nature. They are preyed upon by many medium and large-sized predators such as leopards, civet cats, raptors and snakes. They escape by seeking refuge in trees and by being agile and wary. When in danger, they often freeze or flatten themselves against a tree trunk, instead of running away. Then they take shelter in the closest nest that they have built. The Indian Giant Squirrel shares its habit of scolding, barking and raising an alarm with monkeys. On hearing any unusual sound or unfamiliar sight, they make a loud rattling call and scurry away. This species is territorial and sets out to build about six to eight nests around the area it has marked just before the monsoons approach. These nests are like small round globes and are placed at the high ends of branches, well away from the reach of predators. Nest building takes place from March to April and again from September to October.
These squirrels are omnivorous in nature and survive on flowers, fruits, eggs, insects and even bark. Liana vines make up for 95% of their diet. Liana vines also act as ladders for the squirrels to access the forest canopy and to support them as they swing between trees. These squirrels are on the endangered list and it is up to us to keep them alive in Maharashtra's forests.