HomeEnvironmentSri Lankan Govt on the verge to dethrone the 'Near threatened Grizzled...

Sri Lankan Govt on the verge to dethrone the ‘Near threatened Grizzled Giant Squirrel’ from the National Animal status


Colombo: Farmers in Sri Lanka are refusing to live in harmony with their four-pound tree dwelling neighbour, who is still sitting on their national animal throne.  

The grizzled giant squirrel (GGS) also known as Sri Lankan Giant squirrel Ratufa Macroura is a squirrel, about a size of a domesticated cat, shy and elusive with Grey and Brown coated colouring to help them blend in with their surroundings, they are endemic to Sri Lanka and in some parts of Southern India.  The have white hair tips give them a grizzled effect, Hence the name. GGS listed under “Near threatened under criteria A2c on IUCN’s (International union for conservation of nature) Red list.  

They are solitary animals; they mark territories encompassing many trees where they dwell and depend for their food.  Their nests are called Dreys, using leaves and twigs in strategic locations in handy for them to escape from their aerial predators such as Eagles.

Multiple farmers union Of the Island Nation Sri Lanka have proposed to the wildlife and agriculture ministry to delist the GGS from its national animal status, they said it tops in the list of animals that threaten crops, and they are unable to take any action against it, as it is the national animal of the country.

According to the Wildlife and forest resource conservation ministry of Sri Lanka, a committee has been appointed to determine the case and the status of GGS as the national animal. According to the ministry, a decision is to be made after taking into consideration the recommendation of the committee and the general public’s opinion. The further statement from the ministry says, Giant squirrels are in the world’s top list of animals that cause crop damage, and decisions have been made to include them into the list of pests and replace the national animal GGS with Sri Lankan leopard Panthera Pardus Kotiya.  

Extinction rates of animals are accelerating

In the past, a large number of animals ever lived are said to have gone over the course of five mass extinctions, largely caused by natural causes such as asteroid impacts or volcano eruptions.  Today the rate of extinction is happening at a jet speed by human activities.

According to IUCN, habitat loss has been identified as the major threat to 85% of all species listed in its red list. Expanding the agricultural land for increasing food production demand, overgrazing, intensive harvesting of the forest resources, invasion of species, nitrogen pollution and climatic change are seen as major factors for the habitat loss, it is said that the tropical forests in the world inhabit at least half of the world’s species.

The dramatic removal of the natural forest land with 17 million hectares each year, 10x times higher than any possible rate of regrowth, is said to bring a large-scale loss to the habitat.

The Grizzled Giant Squirrels and their fate in India.

The Grizzled giant squirrel is one of the four Giant squirrel species found around the world. India has the unique distinction of being home to 3 of them.  The other two are the Indian Giant squirrel found across the western Ghats and Malayan Giant squirrel found in north eastern India.

A survey conducted by the Chinnar wildlife sanctuary in Kerala, India says, the population of GGS has fallen by 78-85 percent.

According to Kerala agriculture University in Thrissur’s Study, Though both the Indian giant squirrel and grizzled giant squirrel are  home to south India, their habitat requirements vary, Indian giant squirrel can be spotted widely from Shola forests to Deciduous forests, the Grizzled Giant is mostly depended on vegetation that grows alongside river, as a result the GGS presence is only limited to nine severely fragmented locations in south India, mostly limited to Tamil Nadu state:  Tiruvannamalai forest division, Anamalai tiger reserve, Hosur Forest division, Sirumalai , Palani hills, grizzled giant squirrel sanctuary in Srivilliputtur, Theni forests. Outside Tamil Nadu they are seen in Chinnar wildlife sanctuary in Kerala and along Cauvery River basin in Karnataka.  

The Web of life, threats and the consequences of Extinction.

While it seems not so important that we lose a squirrel in our surroundings or a rat, A study done by the Flinders University of Australia reveals that all species are connected in the web of life, even the most tolerant habitats can go extinct when the less tolerant habitats which they depend on disappear into extinction.  In a balanced bio eco system each species has its own role.

Dense green covers and connected canopies are essential for tree dwellers to travel for food and shelter. Loss of canopy connectivity, degradation of natural forest is a major threat for their survival. In addition, host of people from nearby towns visiting to temples and other historical, touristy sites along the river bank, often camp under trees the squirrels live on, to avoid being noticed the shy creature hide on its dray for too long which cuts it’s time to look for food or socializing, this pattern in extended period can alter the behavioural change of the species.

The local villages around lop away the branches of canopies of vegetation to feed their cattle or for firewood, this disturbs the canopy connectivity. In addition, increasing threats for their survival, the deforestation, expanding forestlands and specially projects like Karnataka governments Mekedatu balancing reservoir, a dam on Cauvery River with capacity to store 65 tmc water to the ever-expanding Bangalore’s water necessity are also add to their risks of the GGS dying away.

But little luck for the squirrels in India, the strong demonstrations and protests conducted by conservationists and environmental and animal activists the government of Karnataka agreed to consider shifting the location of the Dam.

On November 10 the Tamil Nadu government notified a new wildlife sanctuary encompassing 68,640 hectares covering reserve forest areas in Krishnagiri and Dharmapuri districts under section 26-A of the wildlife protection act 1992.  This is home to the red listed Grizzled giant squirrels and other animals such as Lesser Fish Eagle, Four Horned Antelope that are in urgent need for focused conservation which are dependent on Cauvery riverine ecosystem for their survival.

Most of the world’s food crops and practically all the plants in tropical rain forests are pollinated by animals, the loss of pollinating animals will result in a decrease in seedling production, and can lead to the ultimate loss of many important plants in the wild. Like every other arboreal creature, grizzled giant squirrels also play a vital role in seed dispersal, they are seen devouring the fruits of Tamarind and Mango trees as a preference, they also feed on leaves and barks of trees.

A courtship between the Grizzle and Indian Giant squirrels?

Researchers have observed inter- specific mating of Grizzled giant squirrel with another species called Indian Giant squirrel, while this is believed to be uncommon in nature. According to Sujith V. Gopalan, project associate, Kerala state Biodiversity Board and Suresh V. Kurup, a Wildlife photographer; an unusual sighting of courtship between a female GGS and a male ‘Hybrid’ of GGS and Malabar giant squirrel has been reported in Chinnar wildlife sanctuary.  It is said when two different species cross barrier to mate in the past the hybrids were mostly infertile, like Mule (Sterlite hybrid of a male Donkey and a female Horse), However with human intervention there were fertile Hybrids like Ligers; Sterlite hybrid of a male Lion and a female Tiger), that evolved into new species have been reported too.

According to Sujith V Gopalan, it is important to note the hybrid is able to generate offspring, and in the case if it turned to be fertile it will take a serious churn of change for giant squirrel species and will lead to an uncertain future for the parental population like the Threatened GGS.

Despite their fate being put on a roller coaster of wildlife conservation and increased Human needs, The Grizzled Giant Squirrel in India have so far been able to dodge the threats for the survival of their species. With the question of how far can they go with their survival battle?

But for their siblings in Sri Lanka, the Human interventions did not give them a choice to fight, their fate on the Island Nation seems to be nearing the end with a quick escalator down from being the National animal to the List of Dangerous Pest that damages their harvest crops, so they can be eradicated from the land without being questioned by human conscious guilt. 

Sahana David Menon
Sahana David Menon
Foreign Correspondent (Sri Lanka) - Sahana David Menon is a multimedia Journalist | Researcher | Story Teller based in South Asia. Sahana is a Foreign Correspondent for TheNews21. She began reporting in 2014 from the post-Srilankan civil war-ethic conflicts and has since worked with Marginalized communities, conflicts and Environmental issues in India, Srilanka, the Bali islands, and the Middle east. Sahana has won the best multimedia report award in 2016 in the Global Press awards


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Must Read