The Malayan giant squirrel, mostly found in evergreen and semi-evergreen forests of Northeast India, is now disappearing, and climate change is making things worse.
A study by the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) under the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change said that these large tree squirrel, which is known to be one of the “forest health indicator” species needs to be conserved. They are “under severe threat for existence.”
It said currently, 56.62% area of the habitat of these squirrel are unsuitable.
With changing climate, by 2050, only 2.94% area of the present area will remain suitable habitat and remaining 97.06% area will become unsuitable for the species. “The squirrel will lose more than 90% of its distribution range gaining only 1.45% area as newly suitable habitat in India,” said the report.
There are three species of giant squirrels found in India. The Malayan species is native to Northeast India. The other two species: Indian giant squirrel, and grizzled giant squirrel, are distributed mostly across peninsular and southern India.
The Malayan Giant Squirrel, one of the world’s largest squirrel species, has a dark upper body, pale underparts and a long, bushy tail. In India, it is found in the northeastern part of the country covering the States of Sikkim, West Bengal, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, and Nagaland. However, according to the ZSI, the population may soon get limited to only southern Sikkim and North Bengal by 2050.
Studies have found unsustainable hunting of Malayan giant squirrel has propelled population decline mostly from the successional forests, community forests, and jhum-cultivated areas. While the existence of the Malayan giant squirrel depends on primary forests or forests of 20 years or older ages, increased demand for crops and croplands has resulted in deforestations, which have resulted in major forest cover losses and reduced the chances of encountering suitable nesting and feeding areas for this species.
ZSI states, “Forests in north-eastern India has increased 7172 sq km during 1987–2013, but increased deforestations for supporting livelihoods has decreased 628 sq km of forest cover alone between the years 2013–2015.”
The giant squirrel’s habitat is facing multiple threats for destruction. The study underscored that there is a need for suitable conservation and management strategies to save this species which will be on the verge of extinction in the wild.
ZSI suggested that conservation techniques or conservation breeding programs may be initiated for protecting the Malayan giant squirrels of Northeast.