Eupetaurus cinereus commonly known as wooly flying squirrel is claimed to be one of the rarest and most endangered mammals in the world. Westerners had not been able to see this creature since 1924, and it was thought to be extinct. But miraculously it was rediscovered by an American zoologist working in a remote valley of Kashmir in the far north of Pakistan in 1994. Doesn’t it sound interesting that this creature only exist in Pakistan and nowhere else! Very little information has been documented about its life and habits. It is believed to be the largest species of flying squirrel.
The length of this animal is approximately 3 feet from nose to tail. And its weight varies between 1.5 to 2 kg. It does not fly like other birds but surprisingly, it can glide gracefully among cliffs, rocks, and trees of mountain habitat. Its tail is bushy and the whole body is covered with thick fur that gives it a “woolly” appearance. It has elastic membranes on each side of the body joining the fore and hind legs. When they glide into the air they spread their arms and gliding membranes like a cape. They can glide at a possible height of 100 feet. Its body is covered with a dense coat of straight and silky hair. The dorsal side looks blue-gray, while the underside skin is of pale gray in color. Ears and throat is covered with creamy white hair while dense blackish fur covers the soles of the feet except pinkish brown toe pads.
Habitat and Ecology:
Wooly flying squirrel dwells on rocky terrain. It’s not adaptable for plain land. It feeds on pine needles and other plant material. It is found in high-elevation pine forests of Himalaya mountain region, mostly near cliffs and caves in which it takes shelter during the day. It mostly resides into the isolated places of conifer forests. Its dietary analysis shows that it is mostly dependent on pine needles for diet. But when the cones shed in winter then they turn to mosses and lichens for food source.
Strange Facts about Wooly Flying Squirrel:
- It is one of the least studied specie of the world. Very little information is known about its behavior.
- There are three species of flying squirrels found in mountains of Pakistan.
- It’s one of the rarest mammals of the world.
- No one knows its reliable present distribution around the world.
- Its urine is believed to be a strong aphrodisiac (stimulant, Drug).
- This creature cries producing an awful sound. Its cry is believed to be the death of a loved one.
- Males and females look similar. It’s quite difficult to distinguish between the two.
- Because of predators such as cats, dogs, foxes and coyotes this animal looks for food at night when its predators are asleep.
- They are vocal animals and produce many kinds of audible and inaudible sounds. Some sounds are quite audible while some are ultrasonic and cannot be heard.
- In the wild habitat (open forests), Flying Squirrels can live up to 6 years while in captivity they can live up to 12 years.
- Flying Squirrels also live together in large groups. Generally 20 squirrels can nest together in barks or holes of trees.
- Normally flying squirrels give birth to 2 and 7 babies at a time. Newborns are hairless and blind at the time of birth. After one month they can clearly see and are no longer hairless. And after two months they start to glide by imitating their mother.
Wild life Conservation:
Belour Advisory and Social Development Organization (BASDO) is a local NGO, active in Northern areas of Pakistan. It is trying to collect scientific data on this specie under a project called “Biodiversity conservation in the sites of the unique habitat of Woolly Flying Squirrel in Northern Areas, Pakistan”. According to BASDO, this squirrel has been seen at an altitude of 1600m to 3800m on mighty mountains of Hindukush and Gilgit. BASDO has started an awareness campaign in Gilgit area for the safety and preservation of this specie.
The threats to this squirell include destruction of its habitat due to large scale cutting of timbers as well as Juniper and other Conifer trees. Its predators are humans, foxes and stone martens. When it needs to drink water, it goes to ponds and lakes where it becomes prey to foxes and stone martens. Great horned owl is another enemy of this innocent creature.
As mentioned earlier, scientific data on this specie is not documented yet. A lot more is still to be discovered. Preservation and protection of this rare animal is the main objective of BASDO as it is the natural treasure of our homeland.