Thursday, March 28, 2013

Presence & Range of Malabar Giant Squirrels in Odisha

Driving through the Ghats of Bhimashankar Wildlife Sanctuary we hear a loud rattling noise with a series of penetrative chucking call. The Malabar Giant Squirrel or popularly known as Shekru , the state animal of Maharashtra was somewhere nearby. Bhimashankar situated at a distance of 120 kms from Pune is one of the sanctuaries specifically created with the intention of saving the Malabar Giant Squirrels or Indian Giant Squirrels, endemic to the Western Ghats, Eastern Ghats and some of the Central Indian Hills. Here in Pune, very often one would come across weekend news articles on the plight of the Giant Squirrel, Habitat Loss, deficiency of fruit bearing trees, how pilgrims have been throwing garbage in the Eco-sensitive sacred grooves (Bhimashankar is one of the twelve Jyotirlings in India)and spoiling the Ghats.  

An Indian Giant Squirrel on the way from Jenabil to Dhurduruchampa in Similipal

When I start thinking of my trysts with the beautiful squirrel in forests of Odisha and start making notes , I am surprised that more often that not I have encountered this arboreal animal virtually in most of the sanctuaries and reserve forests that I have visited and that too with a lot of ease. That means they are thriving though vulnerable because of various reasons like habitat loss, hunting etc. One of the places where I have seen the maximum number of the Giant Squirrels is in Similipal. On one of the mornings of November while searching for the birds, I had almost 4 individual sightings on the Bhanjabasa- Sarua road in the southern part of the Tiger Reserve. They were virtually present throughout the forests and I have clicked individuals at Jenabil, Chahala and Barhakamuda. One of the reasons that can be attributed to their high density is the occurrence of contiguous canopies of trees with wider girth and considerable height. Giant Squirrels have been known to build multiple nests which is one of the protective measures against the predators like Raptors and Snakes. They keep on changing the nest for their sleeping purpose whereas one of the nests may be kept specifically for upbringing the younger ones. On most of the occasions, I have noted them eating leaves, barks and petioles whereas normal assumption that I used to carry is that fruits and flowers are the main food items for the squirrels. A lot of time is spent in sleeping during the afternoons whereas their activity is quite high in the dawn and dusk. From a photographer’s point, a Giant Squirrel is relatively easy to capture once sighted and is within the eye level ( the later being difficult owing to their activity in higher canopies). They would sometimes freeze their motion and would lie absolutely motionless clutched to the branches of the trees upon any intrusion. Kuldiha has also a fair number of Squirrel’s population and I can recall seeing numerous individuals on my way from Tenda gate to the Kuldiha Forest Rest House.  In these parts of Odisha (roughly north of Mahanadi River) , common name is Belra or Belara Moosa whereas towards south they are called Nepali Moosa. I may be wrong in this assumption which is mostly based on few discussions involving  the Giant Squirrels that I can recall off.
 On the banks of Mahanadi in Satkosia

 Near Kaliamba in Ghumsar

 Kuldiha has a good population of these beauties

 Near Brundaban Gate in Chahala,Similipal

On the Nalakhanja-Balidhar Road , Similipal

        Near Nekdanacha beat in UBK, Similipal

Ghumsar North especially forests in and around Kaliamba Rest House is full of Giant Squirrels and one has also made the nearby tree house it's home.  In Lakhari, I sighted only one individual during my three days of trip to the sanctuary. Mainly it can be attributed to the area being devoid of contiguous canopies with good height. The lone individual that I noted was in a specific area that was in and around a nullah and had a thick riverine forest for quite a distance.  Satkosia is an abode to this beautiful creature and sightings are quite frequent. Though lot of reports (virtually all) on Internet cite the presence of the Malabar Giant Squirrels in Debrigarh and Sunabeda sanctuaries, I am not sure of their presence in these forests. In case of Debrigarh, I have not sighted a single individual in my three trips to the sanctuary. Sunabeda being one of the similar forested areas along the Chhattisgarh border, I assume there would be none either. 

Indian Giant Squirrel Map 
(credit: Google Earth)

This article on Giant Squirrels is going to continue over next couple of years and the recordings would be entered in the map below.I regret not specifically looking out for the Squirrels in Kotagarh and Karlapat Sanctuaries during my earlier visits which might be having a good population. Hopefully Squirrel Map becomes more colorful in coming days. Any input from readers on their Giant Squirrel sightings in Odisha would be a great help in collating data (may not be absolute scientific which I am pretty poor at…:-), and making the Map more concrete.

In the meanwhile, the Shekrus of Bhimashankar would always keep me reminding of the Nepali Moosas of Odisha.


1) The Book of Indian Animals by S H Prater
2) Journal of Threatened Taxa, July 2011

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