Thursday, August 2, 2012

Squirrel Facts: The Endangered Woolly Flying Squirrel

The woolly flying squirrel is one of the rarest and most endangered squirrels in the world. It had not been seen by westerners since 1924, and was believed to be extinct before it was rediscovered in the summer of 1994 by an American zoologist working in a remote valley of Kashmir in the far north of Pakistan.

A few years later, in 2004, Vladimir Dinets videotaped a woolly flying squirrel at night near Nanga Parbat, Pakistan. Here are a couple of still shots of the squirrel:

Very little has been documented about the woolly flying squirrel's life and habits. It is the largest species of flying squirrel. Its body is two feet long, and the tail an additional two feet. Nevertheless, it is able to glide gracefully among the cliffs, rocks, and trees of its mountain habitat. It has a bushy tail and long, thick fur that gives it a "woolly" appearance. It feeds on pine needles and other abrasive plant material. It lives in high-elevation pine forests in the Himalaya mountain region, generally near cliffs, caves, and rocky crevices in which this nocturnal squirrel takes shelter during the day.

The survival of this squirrel was in doubt among western scientists for decades, due to the remoteness of its habitat. However, residents of the northern Pakistan region where it lives have a number of interesting beliefs concerning the woolly flying squirrel. Its urine is said to be a powerful aphrodisiac. And the cry of this squirrel is believed by some to signal the impending death of a loved one.

Like many other critically endangered animals, this mysterious and elusive squirrel faces an uncertain future. Habitat loss and global warming will certainly threaten its survival well into the future. We can only hope that something can be done to save this fascinating creature.