Mike Jordan, Chair of the Small Mammal Subgroup of the Reintroduction Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Species Survival Commission, has urged the Indian government to evolve a rodent conservation policy.

Mr. Jordan is here to take part in a training programme on field techniques for survey and conservation of volant (bats) and non-volant (rodents, insectivores) small mammals being conducted at the Kerala Agricultural University's College of Forestry.

He told The Hindu on Sunday that all species of rodents should not be considered vermin. “Rodents play an important role in many ecosystems. They contribute to seed dispersal and are food sources for predators. There are 2,200 rodent species the world over, and they constitute 42 per cent of the mammalian population. There are 102 rodent species in India. Only 10 per cent of rodents can be termed pests.”

Mr. Jordan observed that the biggest challenge to rodent conservation was a negative image the public had about these mammals. “People hate the entire species of rodents because rats destroy crops and act as vectors for plague, leptospirosis, eosinophilic meningitis, and rat bite fever. Take the case of leptospirosis. Rats are not the only culprits. Dogs, deer, rabbits, hedgehogs, cows, sheep, raccoons, possums, and skunks can transmit the disease as secondary hosts. The species of rodents that act as vectors should, of course, be controlled, and the rest conserved,” he said.

Conservation concern

Among the rodent species found in India that are of conservation concern are the Grizzled giant squirrel (Ratufa macroura dandolena) and Crestless Himalayan porcupine (Hystrix hodgsoni).

He said the diversity of rodent species in the Indian sub-continent was remarkable. According to studies, every bio-climatic zone of the region has some typical rodent taxon: marmots (Marmota) and hamsters (Cricetulus) in the Himalayas; bamboo rats (Cannomys, Rhizomys) in north-eastern India to the Malayan archipelago; Bandicota, Rattus, and Mus in the plains; the porcupine (Hystrix) in rocky habitats; and the gerbils (Gerbillus, Tatera, Meriones) in the north-western desert.