Some Concerns about the 'Least Concern' - Status of Giant Squirrel in Maharashtra Sahyadris

Survey of Giant Squirrel - The Indian giant squirrel (Ratufa indica) is one of the three species found in India and is endemic to peninsular India. Though the species is protected under Schedule II of the Wildlife Protection Act (1972) of India and is on Appendix II of CITES, it is listed as “Least concerned” by the IUCN. This is mostly because of its wide spread distribution across peninsular region. There has been, noticed recently, a decline in populations in some regions with a possibility of the species having gone locally extinct from its range in northern Maharashtra and southern Gujarat.

We carried out a study to determine the distribution of the Indian giant squirrel in Western Ghats of Maharashtra and to assess the threats to the species especially in the reserved forests and other forested areas that are contiguous with protected areas in the region. We estimated the occupancy, density,relative abundance of giant squirrel and evaluated the possible threats to its population from six Protected Areas and intervening Reserved Forests from October 2011 to June 2012 in the Western Ghats of Maharashtra. To determine the occupancy of giant squirrels, 184 grids of 5.07 km2 were surveyed on foot in semi-evergreen and moist forests. The naïve occupancy (Psi) was estimated to be 0.75 indicating that 75 % of the sampled landscape was detected to have squirrel while the realized Psi was 0.95 (SE 0.03) with a detection probability (p) of 0.61(±0.05). Density of giant squirrel was highest in Bhimashankar Wildlife Sanctuary with 15.89 individuals/km2 (range:11-22,18.29% CV) while density from the remaining areas was estimated at 2.92 km2 (range:1.94-4.43,15.82 % CV). The relative abundance estimates indicates that although giant squirrels are present in the semi-evergreen and moist forests of Maharashtra Western Ghats their densities are lower than densities reported from similar vegetation in Karnataka. The Western Ghats of Maharashtra have been witnessing changes in land-use due to agro-industry based plantations, commercial and developmental projects which are rapidly modifying the forests in this region. Hunting of giant squirrel for its meat and trade is a perennial threat throughout its distributional range. In some areas of Southern Maharashtra, giant squirrels have adapted to feeding on coconut plantations and are paying a price for it through their lives. Efforts are required for restoring degraded habitats, protecting source populations and monitoring uncontrolled hunting of giant squirrels in its home state of Maharashtra.  

Supported by: Ruffords Small Grants Program, UK and WWF, India