The lofty Arjuna trees are imposing and literally take your breath away with their stately presence when you are at Galibore. These trees along with their neighbours harbour a whole array of fauna. If you stop by to observe around for a while, you might espy some of them. You could chance upon Bonnet Macaques, an assortment of birds, one of the owl species that frequents these trees, tarantulas that have made these trees their home, or butterflies that float about unhurriedly.
However, the star among the species that use the forest canopy would be a rodent. A rodent? – you may quiz me. Yes, a rodent indeed! A larger relative of the more familiar and endearing palm squirrel seen in the cities – the Grizzled Giant Squirrel!
For these squirrels, the forest canopy is their world and the tree branches are highways leading to various destinations; from the nest to feeding areas, or the favourite branches used for basking or resting. The squirrels are at complete ease here. They are like little trapeze artists that use the uncertainties of the canopy to best effect. They find most of their food requirement in the canopy. These squirrels build their nests (drays), court potential mates, chase intruders – all this and more drama can be seen being enacted in the canopy.
The Grizzled Giant Squirrel Ratufa macroura is a little known animal. Above, it has a grizzled or a peppered appearance as its name suggests; while the undersides are a dirty white. A black patch on the top of the head is very characteristic. The long bushy tail also has a peppered appearance.
It is an unknown species even to many enthusiastic wildlife buffs. However, a loud rattling call, which is reminiscent of its better known cousin – the Malabar Giant Squirrel – often gives away its presence. Once you have located a squirrel try and follow it around the campus as it goes about its morning daily routine. You will see it feed on the fruits, leaves and other things that it finds edible – grasping the food between the forelegs and feeding – all in typical squirrel style!
Between bouts of feeding and wandering about, it may rest stretched on a suitable branch.
This is also the time to indulge in some grooming. It could include scratching, cleaning the face with the front paws or even nibbling the entire length of the tail from base to tip!
The Grizzled Giant Squirrel is an endangered rodent. It is known only from the three southern States of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Right across, it is patchily distributed. In Karnataka it occurs along the River Cauvery where it seems to be restricted to the riparian forests.
A continuous tree canopy within its habitat is very important for the survival of this endangered animal.
Habitat loss and hunting should be prevented if we are to ensure this species lives on into the future. In this direction, the Karnataka Forest Department has declared a large part of the Cauvery valley as the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary. Personally, having reported the species for the first time from Karnataka way back in 1991, it is heartening to see the species thrive in these forests over the last two decades.
If you are visiting Galibore, look out for these grey and black squirrels, watch them and enjoy their antics. If you are lucky you could even see more than one going about the canopy!