Squirrels of all colors and varieties are incredibly cute but imagine a massive multi-colored squirrel with a long purple tail… now that brings the cuteness of nut-loving squirrels to a whole new level.
Meet the Malabar giant squirrel, its nickname is the Shekru. Native to India, this brightly colored squirrel has an epically long tail that ranges in color – some taking on resplendent shades of blue and purple.
If you are used to seeing the brown/grey squirrel common in America or the European red, this beauty will come as a shock. It’s not just their coloring, they are also HUGE in size.
The average Eastern gray squirrel only reaches 11.8 inches at its largest. The Malabar, on the other hand, can reach up to three feet in length.
Much of the their length comes from their massive tail. It’s nearly impossible to miss these critters as they scamper between the trees, or so one might think.
Covered in pops of black, brown, orange, maroon, blue and purple, their colorful coats act as the perfect form of camouflage, helping them blend into the lush forest canopy.
These squirrels spend their days hopping from tree to tree, and their ability to blend in with their surroundings helps them to avoid their main predators: birds of prey and leopards.
This squirrel might be the prettiest variety out there, but don’t confuse them for divas! The Malabar isn’t a picky eater- it’ll consume just about anything it finds in the trees.
They use their large bushy tails to their advantage, swinging it around to knock down yummy treats like flowers, bark, seeds, insects, and even an occasional bird egg.
Many people are shocked to discover these squirrels exist. After all, they look like a magical storybook version of the squirrels most of us know. Sadly, their numbers are in decline.
As of now, they are not considered to be endangered but there are a number of threats facing their existence. In many parts of India, they are hunted for their beautiful fur. In addition, their habitat is declining due to human encroachment.
In parts of India, the beautiful Malabar has already disappeared from the landscape.
Amateur photographer Mohammed Farooq enjoys seeing these incredible “rodents” in his hometown of Kodaikanal, located in Tamil Nadu, South India. He used to see them with greater frequency than he does now.
“I came to Kodaikanal in 1982 as a young boy when this town was much less populated by humans and it was green all over,” he shared in an interview with Bored Panda.
“I used to see these squirrels all over town, flying from tree to tree, but slowly their population has dwindled to extinction. But today, after nearly 34 years, I encountered one! It was a great surprise for me.”
Mohammed believes the influx of people who flocked to the tourist town in the nineties contributed to declining populations of the Malabar.
Thankfully, they appear to be making a comeback. Perhaps because they have learned how to coexist with humans.
Where Mohammed lives, they are not hunted – at least not to his knowledge.
“Lots of people in this area have learned to respect nature. I think there is a revival of the squirrel population here. They are coming back,” he said, full of hope.
Also helping this amazing creature make a comeback is the Rajv Gandhi Zoological Park in Pune. Here, the Malabar is being bred in captivity and studied closely.
The Zoo director Rajikumar Jadhav spoke with The Hindu, explaining: “We wanted to study them genetically. There are plenty of studies on the tiger, but so little is known about smaller animals like this one.”
As part of the program’s studies, they are looking to uncover how frequently the Malabar mates, their gestation period, and how long the average squirrel lives.
In addition, Bhimashankar Wildlife Sanctuary has dedicated an area to better protect the Malabar giant squirrel. As a result, they have seen populations steadily increase. One study found that numbers increased by 8% in the sanctuary between 2015 and 2016.
Lucky for all of us, it appears the Malabar squirrel is finally starting to get the respect and protection it deserves in India. So, while numbers may be declining in certain regions of India, overall, there’s a lot of hope for the multi-colored squirrel that is pulling on heartstrings around the world.
We can only hope that one day populations will be as abundant as they once were, because seriously how cute is this little guy?