Status and Distribution of Malabar Giant Squirrel Ratufa indica in Western Ghats of Maharashtra, India



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Chapter 6

Measure of Giant Squirrel Abundance in Surveyed Areas



6.1 Index of Abundance
This section describes the profile of all the surveyed area and number of giant squirrel signs encountered in the study area. For understanding the trend in squirrel population, we have compared numbers of squirrel signs recorded during 1992-93 by Borges et al (1998) with the signs obtained during this survey. Comparisons were possible only from similar areas and because of some administrative re-arrangements, some areas had to be clubbed for comparisons. Since there was no mention of effort from the previous survey, encounter rates could not be compared.
Table 6.1: Total Effort for the Survey


Total Effort

723.16 km

Number of Trails walked

254

Number of Sightings

160

Number of Calls Heard

336

Number of New Nests

3416

Number of Old Nests

1879

6.2 Nashik District




Location

19040’N-200N; 730 20’E- 730 30’E

Average Elevation

950 m -1287 masl

Forest Type

Moist deciduous with teak and evergreen species

Protected Status

Reserved Forests


Topography and Vegetation: Nashik District has two divisions namely east and west Nashik. The east Nashik Division is a drier region and has mainly scrub forests and grasslands so this division was not surveyed. West Nashik Division has 5 Ranges. None of the ranges had records of giant squirrel in the area. In 1992, West Nashik Division was surveyed by Mali et al. (1998) and they reported no sightings of squirrel from the area. The survey reported considerable fragmentation of forests from most of the areas in West Nashik Division.
Status of R. indica in Nashik Division: We interviewed Forest officers and staff in West Nashik about history of Giant Squirrel. The Sawarda and Vaitarna valley in Tansa WLS may have had squirrels in the past but since last 3 decades there are no records of the species from the area. Forests around Mauhli Gad and Khor Village one supported tall forests but due to recent deforestation and encroachment the forests are very scanty in appearance and do not support giant squirrels.
6.3 Ahmednagar District


Location

19025’N-190 35’ N;730 40’E- 730 50’E

Area

Harishchandragad-Kalsubai WLS (HKS)

Average Elevation

600 - 1400 masl

Forest Type

Moist deciduous with teak and evergreen species near the crest-line

Protected Status

Wildlife Sanctuary


Topography and Vegetation: HKS is located at the northernmost region of Maharashtra Western Ghats. Although the total area of the sanctuary is 362 km2, only 171 km2 is under Reserved Forest and 29 km2 is under Protected Forests while the remaining 162 km2 belongs to villagers as Private Forests.
The Harishchandragad Fort, Tarabai temple and Kalsubai peak are the major attraction for the tourists here. The base of the Sanctuary is at 600 masl and the highest peak is at Kalsubai at 1646 masl. Kalsubai is the highest peak in Northern Western Ghats. There are many other smaller peaks in the region that people visit for trekking.
Interestingly, the southernmost part of Harishchandragad marks the northern-most limits of evergreen forests in Sahyadri. The northern half and eastern fringe of the Sanctuary has semi-evergreen and deciduous forests. Commonly found tree species in Typical vegetation in the region includes Terminalia chebula,, Memecylon umbellatum, Olea diocia, Syzygium cumini, Actinodaphne angustifolia, Bridelia retusa, Ficus glomerata, Terminalia tomentosa, Macaranga pultala, Cassia fistula, Actinodaphne hookeri , Diospyros montana , Albizzia procera , Trema orientalis , Memecylon umbellatum, Phyllanthus emblica. There are many villages located inside the Sanctuary and they all depend on the forests for their biotic needs (Mehta and Kulkarni 2010).
HKS Wildlife Sanctuary now represents the northern-most range of R. indica


Prachi Mehta
Status of R. indica in Harishchandragad-Kalsubai Sanctuary (HKS): Very few evidences of squirrel presence were obtained from northern areas of Alang, Kulang, Ratanwadi, Ghatghar located in Bhandardhara Range. Rajur Range located in southern portion of HKS has tall forests in valleys. Areas like Tolar Khind, Jamran, Tale Vihir, Mahvasa, Virachi Rai, Kothale, Harishchandragad, and Tarabaigad have a good population of giant squirrels. The slopes have dense thickets of M. umbellatum and squirrels feed on fruits and leaves of the tree. Although these trees are not very tall, squirrel nests were seen on these trees.
Considerable extent of forest area is fragmented due to presence of villages inside the sanctuary. The local tribes known as Kolis, Thakurs and Katkaris from Ratanwadi, Thakurwadi and Ghatghar villages are famous for their hunting skills with catapults (Mehta and Kulkarni 2010) and hunting of squirrels was a regular practice since earlier times here (Borges et al 1998). People from Thakurwadi and Ratanwadi admitted to hunting the squirrels but changed their statements once they realized that the survey was for assessing the status of squirrels. During the survey in Ratanwadi, several teams of young boys were seen in the forests with traps, snares and dogs actively hunting for wild boar, birds and small mammals. It is quite common to see gangs of boys with catapult in the area so hunting of squirrel from the area cannot be ruled out. HKS represents the northern-most population of R .indica for the Western Ghats, it requires regular monitoring to control deforestation and hunting of giant squirrels in the area.
In Ratanwadi, the semi-evergreen forests were patchy interspersed with tall shrubs of Carvia callosa, grassy blanks and degraded forests. Most forest patches were secondary in nature with signs of grazing, lopping and hunting. A few older villages informed that the squirrel presence has declined in the area due to hunting.
Table 6.2: Count of R. indica in HKS WLS in 1992 and 2012





Total Effort (km)

Sightings

Calls

Nest (Old + New)

Borges et al (1998)

NA

11

-

97

This survey

24.24

2

6

43


Table 6.3: Encounter Rate of R. indica Harishchandragad Kalsubai WLS


Sighting

Calls

New Nest

Old Nests

0.08(0.04)

0.20(0.12)

1.41(0.38)

0.20(0.12)

Figure in parentheses represent standard error.
Wild Boar Trap at Ratanwadi and Signs of cut tree stumps in Tale Vihir, HKS


Gaurav Nalkur

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