Satellite system to track down Giant Squirrel

Pune: In an effort to ensure accuracy in the census of Giant Squirrel (GS), an endangered wildlife species found in the hilltop Bhimashankar sanctuary near here, Maharashtra forest department will use for the first time Global Positioning System (GPS) to collect data from April 20.

In the dense forest of Bhimashankar, which also houses one of the 12 "Joytirlingas" resides the animal enlisted in the schedule one of the Wildlife Act which was perceived to be on the verge of extinction, spurring a slew of measures for its protection.

"The last census of GS done manually by locating their nests indicated that about 1200 of them still inhabit Bhimashankar although they are rarely seen," said Rajendra Nale, range forest officer who is in charge of the new drive.

He said in addition to ten GPS instruments which will help in collecting data on the habitat of GS through satellite imagery, the forest officials would also press into service equal number of range finders (fitted with binoculars) and compasses as part of the Geographical Information System (GIS).

The data recorded and collected through the GPS and GIS would be transferred on a digital map to arrive at the exact number of nests located in Bhimashankar, spread across about 100 km in the mountainous terrain.

"The figure denoting the nests will then be divided by six as one Giant Squirrel is supposed to make six nests to shelter herself and her youngs," he added.

It is the sub-species of Giant Squirrel called " Rotufia Indica" which is exclusively found in the Bhimashankar forest inhabited by a local adivasi tribe, members of which are being persuaded to refrain from tree cutting to earn a livelihood as a depleting green cover has been posing a threat to the survival of GS which builts its nest on tree tops.

A very timid animal, GS prefers to reside in dense forests sheltering herself in a big nest on tree tops which is made compact using leaves. "She looks like a cat with a long tail and is about three and half foot tall.An extremely agile creature and a mammal, Giant Squirrel can take a leap of about 20 foot as it jumps from tree to tree," Nale noted.

Wild life enthsiasts from all over the state are ever eager to have a glimpse of the elusive Giant Squirrel which moves at a lightening speed among trees.

About 25 forest officals are currently undergoing a training in the use of GPS and GIS systems to track down Giant Squirrels` habitat.

The data collected will be analysed scientifically to initiate steps to protect the species and specific habitats that emerge through satellite projections and geographic directions.

"The new methods of GS census will enable us to ensure an increase in the population of the species as the animal is regarded as a wild life treasure of Maharashtra," forest officials said.