A rare woolly flying squirrel found in the custody of a villager
in Gilgit has boggled many
surrounds the fate of a woolly flying squirrel, an endangered mammal,
which was discovered to be in the custody of a villager in Gich,
District Ghizer of Gilgit. The IUCN places the mammal, biological name
eupetaurus cinereous, in the threatened animals category.
Khan, a shepherd, caught the woolly flying squirrel, or flying fox as it
is locally known, in the Gich mountains. He was initially ready to free
the animal, but later changed his mind and claimed that black market
dealers were offering him a hefty price of Rs 0.7 million for it.
latest reports from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the sub-divisional
district forest officer (SDFO) suggest that Farzand has released the
flying squirrel after being pressurised by the local government
officials and police.
official Atif Khurshid told The News on Sunday, "We have no idea
what Farzand did with the species. But his claim satisfies the
government officials. We are an environment conservation body. Our duty
is to inform the government agencies and sensitize the public and media
about environmental issues." The rest, according to him, is the
a standard operating procedure, the government organises the release of
such endangered animals from individual captivity. This is done in the
presence of conservationists and members of the local community.
WWF had first learnt about the squirrel's capture from a man who lived
in the same village as did Farzand. The Fund's officer Rehmat Ali along
with his colleagues visited the home of Farzand Khan and saw the animal
that had been with him since 1994. For further confirmation the WWF
contacted Mayoor Khan an expert from Belour Advisory and Social
Development Organization (BASDO).
the identity of the mammal had been established, the WWF team tried to
convince the villager to release the animal. He was told that it was an
endangered species and hence keeping it was a crime.
Khan initially agreed to free the animal in the presence of the local
community, district government, forest and WWF officials, but later
changed his mind. Instead, he said he had an offer from black market
wildlife experts doubted Farzand's claim that he had been offered a
hefty amount for a mammal that has no market value. According to Waqar
Zakriya, head of environment consultancy Haigler Bailey, it was most
unlikely that the squirrel can attract such a high price. Some
environmentalists in Gilgit held that the villager was using this as a
tactic to strike a bargain with the government.
recently scientific knowledge of this rare species was limited to a few
skins collected in the late 19th century. In the summer of 1994, the
rare mammal was re-discovered by Peter Zehler, an American zoologist
working in the Sai valley. The species live in steep cliff mountains and
pine forests. It is large with unusually thick and long fur, blue-grey
in colour, and elastic flying membrane attached to flanks.
Z B Mirza, renowned biologist and author of several books on wildlife
such as 'Mammals of West Pakistan', and 'Illustrated Handbook of Animal
Biodiversity of Pakistan', first collected a specimen of this type in
1963 from Sai Valley some 30 kilometres from Gilgit in a mountain spur
of Hindukush range, between Gilgit River and Indus River.
woolly flying squirrel (eupetaurus cinereous) is of great zoological
interest. Its tail is cylindrical, and its claws are blunt. The length
of this grey-coloured species from its nose to tail is about three feet,
and its tail is about 1.6 feet long. It weighs between 1.5 to 2
kilogramme. The body and tail is covered with thick woolly fur. The hair
is straight and silky.
is hard to guess that this mammal can glide because its flying membrane
is hidden between its flanks. Its long tail and sharp nails help it to
climb steep cliffs and walls. The mammal feeds on fruits, grains,
leaves, needles, flowers and birds. Farzand fed the animal while it was
in his captivity. He also mentioned that the woolly flying squirrel
could be frequently spotted in the valley until a few years ago.
animal comes out at night and glides to nearby juniper and blue pine
trees in search of food. It usually falls prey to foxes and stone
martens when it searches for water. Great horned owl is another natural
enemy of this species. This mammal's habitat is vanishing rapidly due to
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