There is a small river valley near here where we take guests for a walk to experience the natural life on offer in the foothills of the ghats. There are always birds to be seen – ranging from small minivets to black eagles – and sometimes a langur monkey or two can be seen playing in the trees. There are also deer and gaur (Indian bison) in the area although I have not seen them. What I have seen though is the Grizzled Squirrel.
The Grizzled Giant Squirrel is a large tree squirrel that is only found in patches of forest along the Kaveri River and in the hill forests in Tamil Nadu and Kerala along with a few places in Sri Lanka. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the species as near threatened due to habitat loss and hunting. A Grizzled Squirrel Wildlife Sanctuary (covering over 480sq. km) was set up in 1988 in Srivilliputtur, Tamil Nadu to protect ‘Ratufa macroura’ which is the smallest of the giant squirrels found in the Indian subcontinent. The squirrel has a head and body length of 25 to 45 centimetres (9.8 to 18 in), and tail measuring roughly the same or more giving a total length of 50 to 90 centimetres (20 to 35 in). It has small rounded ears with pointed tufts. The home range of an individual is between 1,970 and 6,110 square metres, and the species breeds just once a year, producing a single offspring.
The squirrels spend most of the day feeding, although they do take a ‘siesta’ during the hottest part of the day (just like most of the local inhabitants!) They feed mostly on fruits and seeds but when these are scarce they will eat tender leaves and shoots. Unusually for squirrels these animals tend to build two dreys (nests), usually in forked branches so that they can make a quick ‘get away’ in any direction if threatened.
I’m not sure why the squirrels are in this area (there may be a forest ‘corridor’ linking to the sanctuary) but I feel very privileged to have seen them. In order to protect the animals I won’t say where this spot is so if you want a chance to see them you will just have to come and stay at Lakeside!