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Woolly Flying Squirrel

 

Woolly flying squirrel, an introverted sociable animal, is endangered with extinction, as it faces many threats. The fast deprivation of its habitat and exposure to human being are the main causes that put its life in jeopardy.

Found in Northern regions (Gilgit-Baltistan) merely and nowhere else, it is one of the least studied species on the planet. There are 3 species of airborne squirrels in Pakistan which are found in temperate zone in the northern hills, as well as Murree Hills.

The giant Red Flying Squirrel (Petaurista petaurista), which is considered very universal, lives at an elevation of 1350m to 3050m in Himalayan damp temperate woods, Muree Hills, Neelum Valley, the southern part of Kaghan valley, in the eastern division of Swat, Deodar forest of lower Chitral and parts of Dir.

The Small Kashmir Flying Squirrel (Hylopetes fimbriatus), graded vulnerable in IUCN list, is found in Himalayan moist temperate jungle of deciduous and coniferous vegetation, spruce forest in Gilgit, Kohistan region, southern Chitral, Dir, Swat, Muree Hills, Hazara and Azad Kashmir. According to IUCN list of endangered species, the Woolly Flying Squirrel (Eupetaurus Cinereus) is threatened with extinction. It is, unquestionably, one of the rarest mammals in the world and its present distribution is not consistently known.

Belour Advisory and Social Development Organization (BASDO), a local NGO and a member of IUCN-The World Conservation Union, active in Northern Areas since 1989 for conservation of natural world and possessions, in 2002 was gathering scientific data on this endangered species under a project, entitled “Biodiversity conservation in the sites of the unique habitat of Woolly Flying Squirrel in Northern Areas, Pakistan”, funded by the UNDP/GEF/SGP.

As per the information collected by BASDO, the animal has been seen by the neighboring communities at an elevation of 1.6km to 3.8km on the high peak of Hindukush (Naupura Nallah, Jutial Nallah, Sai Nallah, Sekwar Nallah, Barmas Nallah, and Kargah Nallah in Gilgit; Singul, Gupis, Karumber valley in Ishkoman and Yasin valleys). In the Himalayan series it has been located in Chilas, Nanga Parbat forest in Diamir District and in the Karakoram Range at Naltar, Hunza, Shimshal and Nagar.

As informed by the BASDO field biologist, Abdulla Bai, he has seen it at the altitude of 2.6km in Jutial Nallah, south of Gilgit city. The measurement lengthwise of this grey-colored specie from its nose to tail is approx 3 feet, and its tail is about 1.6 feet in lenth. Its weight is 1.5 to 2kg. A thick woolly kind of spongy fur is on the body and tail. The hairs are straight and smooth. These species enjoy eating needles of Deodar, Blue Pine, Chilghoza Pine, Juniper and Spruce trees. It is nocturnal and glides from peaks to peak, survives in a utter mountain caves/holes. A flexible flying membrane is attached to its flank.

Prof Z.B.Mirza, well-known biologist and writer of quite a few books on wildlife including, Mammals of West Pakistan, and Illustrated Handbook of Animal Biodiversity of Pakistan, first collected a specimen of this species in 1963 from Sai Valley some 30 kilometers from Gilgit in a mountain spur of Hindukush series, connecting Gilgit River and Indus River. This specimen was stiffed in the Punjab University’s Zoological collections. It has also been explained in Prof Mirza’s book. There are three more specimens of this specie in the world.

The threats to this species comprise of degradation of its locale due to large level felling of timbers as well as cutting of a large number of Juniper and other Conifer plants — which are also protected trees under the Forest Act, 1923 — as fuel wood. It is vulnerable to predators and human being as neighboring citizens are unaware of the importance of this specie.

References: Daily Dawn News

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