If you have ever been to India, I believe the country has overloaded your senses for a lifetime! The combination of vibrant colors and sounds, marked contrasts and pieces of history with every step you take, can leave no one unmoved.
The lush beauty, exotic architecture, the richness of the land, and the delicious traditional cuisine makes India a magical place.
There are countless reasons why everyone should visit it at least once, and the unique multi-colored giant squirrel is one reason more!
The Malabar giant squirrels, also known as Shekru, are huge, and have an impressive dapper multi-colored coat.
They measure up to 36 inches from head to tail and can leap 20ft between trees!
Yet, their extraordinary coloration is apparently not just for show. The forests they live in are also home to predators like leopards, lion-tailed macaques, and crested serpent eagles, that hunt tree-dwelling rodents.
With the help of their shades of brown, orange, black, maroon, and purple, these impressive squirrels perfectly blend in the forest canopy, so it is quite a challenge to spot them.
John Koprowski, professor at the School of Natural Environment at the University of Arizona, explains:
‘In the shaded understory of a dense forest, the patchy colors and dark hues are a great adaptation to avoiding detection. When you see these in the sunlight, they show their “true colors” and beautiful pelage fur.’
The Malabar would eat anything available in the treetops, and with the tail that swings around, it forages for nuts, insects, flowers, bark, and even bird eggs.
These squirrels also have big furry ear tufts and robust forelimbs.
Pizza Ka Yee Chow, squirrel expert and research fellow at Hokkaido University, adds:
“They are pretty shy. One of my friends who lives in India shared with me that the best way to see these giant squirrels is to climb up on a tree, stay very quiet and wait for them to emerge from their nest.”
Due to habitat loss as a result of human encroachment, and hunting for their colorful fur, the populations of these exotic squirrels are on the decline. They have completely disappeared in some areas.
“The real threat is the slow loss and degradation of forested habitats as humans move in and as climate change impacts higher elevation areas. The good news is that they have a wide distribution and seem to tolerate human presence and even some modest level of low-density housing.
They’re a unique evolutionary group that’s been here a long time, which is a good thing.”
Amateur photographer Mohammed Farooq, from Kodaikanal in Tamil Nadu, South India, had a surprise visit one morning:
“I came to Kodaikanal in 1982 as a young boy when this town was much less populated by humans, and it was green all over. I used to see these squirrels all over town, flying from tree to tree, but slowly their population has dwindled to extinction. But today, after nearly 34 years, I encountered one! It was a great surprise for me.”
He maintains that the population decline has been hastened by the sudden move of too many people into the popular tourist town in the 1990s.
Yet, he believes that the squirrels might be returning to their home, as they might have adapted to life alongside people:
“They are not hunted here, I believe. Lots of people in this area have learned to respect nature. I think there is a revival of the squirrel population here. They are coming back.”
The Rajiv Gandhi Zoological Park in Pune has largely contributed to this comeback.
The Malabar giant squirrels are studied there, and zoo director Rajkumar Jadhav explains:
“We wanted to study them genetically. There are plenty of studies on the tiger, but so little is known about smaller animals like this one.”
Moreover, the population of the squirrels is increasing in the Bhimashankar Wildlife Sanctuary too, which is an area specifically designed for their protection.
That’s great news!
The adorable huge squirrels charmed people online: