Particoloured Flying Squirrel Hylopetes alboniger that belongs to genus Hylopetes is spotted on the floor of Chirpine forest associated with undergrowth species such as Adhatoda vasica, Rhus japonica, Lyonia ovalifolia, Rubia cordifolia and Cymbopogan citratus in the vicinity of Obi village under Metsho geog in Lhuentse in the eastern part of Phrumsengla National Park (PNP).
The park staff sighted this animal last year sometimes in late summer (July 19, 2014) at an elevation of 1370 metres (GPS coordinate 27031’39.89”N and 91008’31.52”E). The site where the animal spotted is located at a crow fly distance of one km from Obi village falling on the buffer zone of the park. The sighting of this squirrel is first time and therefore it is a new record for PNP certainly.
This magnificent squirrel is distributed in northeast India, Nepal, Bhutan, China, Myanmar, Thailand, Lao PDR, Vietnam and Cambodia (Duckworth et al., 2008). This species was included under endangered category by IUCN before 1996 and was later shifted to Least Concern category due to relatively wide distribution and presumed large population. Much information regarding its ecology remains unknown. This species is found at an elevation ranging between 1500-4000 m and is also thought to exist in lower elevations (Duckworth et al., 2008). Krishna et al, (2013) reported occurrence of this species even at lower elevation ranges of between100-500m in India.
The local people of Obi village call this animal as Threngthrengma which is known to be nocturnal and glider. At times, when the team spotted the animal, it was under total rest or inactive on the ground as captured in the above picture. Krishna et al. (2013) states that Particoloured flying squirrel is an active species found gliding very fast between the trees and sometimes, is very difficult to detect it in dense tropical forest canopy. The glide distance ranges from approximately between 10-110m. The glide or the single shoot distance was more or less similar to that of giant flying squirrel (Petaurista petaurista, 150 m; Nowak, 1991) and to other small flying squirrel (Hylopetes lepidus, >135 m; Thorington et al., 1981).
According to the local people of Obi, this animal is commonly found in broadleaved forest that bears abundant fruits. The local people reported that Threngthrengma is mostly found to roost in Quercus lamellose. Therefore, its encounter in the Chirpine forest is likely unusual. Krishna et al .(2013) reported that this squirrel is usually spotted along with the red giant flying squirrel Petaurista petaurista and is thought to be sympatric with it. It is found to feed on fruits, flowers and leaves of several trees during nights and roosts as well as nests in tree hollows during the day.
Rapid destruction of its habitat in northeastern India for the construction of dams, road expansion, shifting cultivation and the expanding agricultural lands are some of the major threats to the species (Duckworth et al., 2008; Krishna et al., 2013). Even hunting of this species is common among several tribal communities of the state as they hunt this species as a source of bush meat (Krishna et al., (2013).
A new addition of this beautiful squirrel claims to a total of 71 mammals recorded for PNP thus far. It is likely that the sighting at PNP confirms the occurrence of Particoloured flying squirrel in Bhutan because we could not find single report published about its occurrence in Bhutan despite our tremendous and exhaustive effort in gleaning the information.
The book “Mammals of Bhutan” authored by Tashi Wangchuk et al (2004) is silent about its distribution and specific sighting area. Therefore, comprehensive studies are required to understand its distribution and behavioural ecology for better conservation of this small and magnificent nocturnal glider acting as natural seed disperser to conserve the forest ecosystem in Bhutan.
Reported by Ugyen Namgyel, Chief Forestry Officer, Phrumsengla National Park
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