What first comes to mind when you hear the word ‘rodent?’ Sure, they have acquired a certain reputation as pests, invaders with insatiable appetites who spread disease and misery. But they can also be loyal and cute household pets, as many a rat, mouse or guinea pig owner can confirm.
So cute, yes. But magnificent? Beautiful? Probably not. Well, maybe these stylish squirrels will go some way toward changing that! The Malabar giant squirrel, also known as Shekru, is native to India and comes quite resplendent in an incredibly dapper multi-colored coat.
For those more used to seeing the American grey squirrel or its far cuter cousin the Europen red, the Malabar is bound to come as a shock. For starters, as the name suggests, they are huge. Stretching as long as 3 feet, they are much harder to miss than our own scurrilous buddies. Admittedly though, the brilliantly blue bushy tail accounts for much of the Malabar’s length.
However, they may be more difficult to find than their large size and bright coat suggest. The shades of black, brown and orange, as well as maroon and purple, can assist them in blending perfectly with the forest canopy, where they spend their time leaping from tree to tree. This is especially useful for escaping the attention of predators, such as various birds of prey and also leopards.
The Malabar isn’t too fussy about its diet and will eat what’s available up there in the treetops. Using their huge, bushy tails to swing around, they’ll search for flowers, bark, seeds, insects, and even bird eggs if there are any freely available. Just watch out for mother eagle though!
While not a lot is known about the population of the Malabar giant squirrel, their numbers are considered to be declining. At the moment they are not listed as endangered, but they sadly face real threats; they are hunted in some parts of India for their beautiful fur, and their habitat is getting gradually jeopardized by human encroachment. In some areas, they have already disappeared completely.
“I came to Kodaikanal in 1982 as a young boy when this town was much less populated by humans and it was green all over,” he told us. “I used to see these squirrels all over town, flying from tree to tree, but slowly their population has dwindled to extinction. But today, after nearly 34 years, I encountered one! It was a great surprise for me.”