New ad­di­tion to the list of mam­mal species for Phurm­sen­gla Na­tional Park

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The 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.

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