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Missing for 42 years, flying squirrel resurfaces in Arunachal

Published - December 22, 2023 02:59 am IST - GUWAHATI

Last recorded in 1981, the Namdapha flying squirrel shares habitat with the similar red giant flying squirrel

The Namdapha flying squirrel. | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

GUWAHATI

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A nocturnal flying squirrel has resurfaced in Arunachal Pradesh after going missing for 42 years.

The Namdapha flying squirrel (Biswamoyopterus biswasi) was last described in 1981 based on a single individual found in the 1,985 sq. km. Namdapha Tiger Reserve in Arunachal Pradesh’s Changlang district.

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The failure of zoologists to locate the arboreal mammal during several expeditions thereafter generated two theories — that it could have been mistaken for the very similar red giant flying squirrel (Petaurista petaurista) sharing the same ecosystem or worse, become history.

Ten of these expeditions were by teams from Aaranyak, an Assam-based biodiversity conservation group, for a total of 79 days in 2021. A team from the group finally sighted the Namdapha flying squirrel in April 2022.

The team led by Firoz Ahmed included Sourav Gupta, a field researcher, and Sourav Mardi, a volunteer who visited various potential sites close to a river at night. Tajum Yomcha, a research officer with the Arunachal Pradesh Forest Department, aided the search for the elusive species.

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“We sighted a small reddish and grizzled furry mammal high up on a tree. After months of scrutiny of the photographic evidence we gathered, experts are pretty much sure that the animal is the Namdapha flying squirrel,” Dr. Ahmed said.

The team members said they are designing a study to collect DNA samples of the squirrel in the field for comparing the genetic material with the DNA of the individual collected in 1981, stored at the Zoological Survey of India in Kolkata.

“If the animal sighted during our last expedition is established as the Namdapha flying squirrel, it will be a powerful flagship for conservation for both the tiger reserve and other wildlife species found here,” Dr. Ahmed said.

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“What sets the Namdapha flying squirrel apart from the red giant flying squirrel is the prominent tuft of hair on the ears of the former,” Mr. Gupta said.

“Our team was well aware that tracking down the elusive species, missing for 42 years with no live observations or photographs, and a complete absence of information, mirrored the difficulty of finding a needle in a haystack,” he added.

The Aaranyak study was supported by Re:Wild, a global wildlife conservation organisation, and the Small Mammal Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Species Survival Commission.

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