Woolly Flying Squirrel

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Woolly Flying squirrel: Here’s the thing: flying squirrels don’t actually propel themselves through the air. Instead, they glide, kept aloft by their patagium (the parachute-like skin that webs across their limbs). The delicate action of flight, especially without self-propulsion, is easiest for small rodents, which is why most flying squirrels are between 5 and 12 inches long. The Woolly Flying Squirrel, however, is an outlier among its peers. Standing two feet tall, its bushy tail stretches an additional two feet off its body. Nevertheless, the squirrel manages to „fly“ gracefully through the air – though only recently did it launch itself back into our consciousness. After being presumed extinct for more than 70 years, two nature lovers from upstate New York rediscovered the Woolly Flying Squirrel in northern Pakistan in 1995. The mystique surrounding this species of squirrel extends beyond its decades-long absence and flying ability: in some Pakistani subcultures, its urine is purported to be an aphrodisiac and its cry is said to herald the death of a loved one.

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

The Small Kashmir Flying Squirrel (Hylopetes fimbriatus), considered vulnerable, is found in Himalayan moist temperate forest of deciduous and coniferous trees, spruce forest in Gilgit, Kohistan region, southern Chitral, Dir, Swat, Muree Hills, Hazara and Azad Kashmir.

The Woolly Flying Squirrel (Eupetaurus Cinereus) is threatened with extinction. It is, undoubtedly, one of the rare mammals in the world and its present distribution is not reliably 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 nature and natural resources, is currently collecting scientific data on this endangered specie under a project, entitled „Biodiversity conservation in the sites of the unique habitat of Woolly Flying Squirrel in Northern Areas, Pakistan“, financed by the UNDP/GEF/SGP.

According to the information gathered by BASDO, the animal has been seen by local communities at an altitude of 1600m to 3800m on the high mountains of Hindukush (Sai Nallah, Sekwar Nallah, Jutial Nallah, Barmas Nallah, Naupura Nallah, and Kargah Nallah in Gilgit; Singul, Gupis, Karumber valley in Ishkoman and Yasin valleys). In the Himalayan range it has been found in Chilas, Nanga Parbat forest in Diamir District and in the Karakoram Range at Naltar, Hunza, Shimshal and Nagar.

According to the BASDO field ecologist, Abdulla Bai, he has seen it at the altitude of 2600m in Jutial Nallah, south of Gilgit city.

The length of this grey-coloured specie from its nose to tail is about 3 feet, and its tail is about 1.6 feet long. Its weight is 1.5 to 2kg. A thick woolly type of soft fur is on the body and tail. The hairs are straight and silky.

The preferred food of this specie is the needles of Blue Pine, Chilghoza Pine, Deodar, Juniper and Spruce trees. It is nocturnal and glides from mountain to mountain, lives in a sheer mountain caves/holes. An elastic flying membrane is attached to its flanks.

Prof Z.B.Mirza, renowned biologist and author of several 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 kilometres from Gilgit in a mountain spur of Hindukush range, between Gilgit River and Indus River.

This specimen was lodged in the Punjab University’s Zoological collections. It has also been described in Prof Mirza’s book.

There are three more specimens of this specie in the world.

The threats to this species include degradation of its habitat due to large scale felling of timbers as well as cutting of a large number of Juniper and other Conifer trees – which are also protected trees under the Forest Act, 1923 – as fuel wood.

It is vulnerable to predators and human being as local people are ignorant about the importance of this specie.

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