/ Vivek Kale Nature Photography


Shekru - Indian giant Squirel
In the small patch of dense forest, just adjacent to the main road, I found small walkway entering the forest. As I walked down for while, I saw movements on the tall mango tree. Before I could make out what it was, the animal vanished in the canopy. The tree on which the animal was seen was away from the route I was following. Shama bird was singing very nice tune. After listening to the call I decided to locate the bird. As I located the bird and reached close to it, the bird flew towards a branch close to me, sat there for a while. Before I could take the snap, the bird vanished in the bush far behind. This hide and seek continued for about half an hour. Bhimashankar is not very easy forest for photography. With tall evergreen forest even on the last day of the summer, I experienced this within few minutes, as I tried to photograph the Shama bird. I gave up and focussed on listening to the bird instead. The melody was being disturbed, by intermediate horns and music from the vehicles from the road. I went to Bhimashankar on 5th June, jut one day before mansoon rains arrived in Bhimashankar. With small clouds covering the forest patch intermitently, I had to change my camera settings, very often. I took snaps of moths and lizards. I saw yellow bulbul, White bellied Blue flycatcher and Red throated flycatcher moving in the bush.
The State highway that passes through the forest patch takes pilgrims to Bhimashankar shrine (One of 12 Jyotirlingas). A group of enthusiastic pilgrims stopped their vehicle, and started taking group snaps. As these typical urban young humans started making too much of noise on the road, sudden loud rattling noise came from tree top. The pilgrims were silenced by the rattling. The pilgrims left soon for the temple. As I moved towards the tree about 50 meters from the main road. I saw a long tail hanging from the tree branch.

The tail was about 2 ft in the length, with brown color and creamy color at the end. I tried to get the full view, but instead got only a glimpse of face. Various subspecies of Indian giant Squirrels, have different color schemes.

I identified the animal as "Shekru", Marathi name of the Indian Giant Squirrel that is found in this part of western ghat forest. I waited patiently below the tree for about half hour for Shekru to come out on open branch. As the animal came on open branch, I got some snaps of the squirrel. Here are some of the images with some information that I collected later in the evening when I came back home.

The Scientific name of the Indian Giant Squirrel is "Ratufa indica". The one that is found in Bhimashankar is called as "Ratufa indica elphistoni". The Indian giant squirrel is "Vulnerable" species as per IUCN Red List. They are brown in colour with buff-coloured underparts

This animal is State animal of Maharashtra State. Shekru is animal which lives all the time on trees, require continuous canopy of tall trees as its habitat. It rarely comes down on the ground. I also noticed the animal crossing the road, along the tree top canopy and coming back quite often. Continuity of the tree top canopy is very important for these animals. Any fragmentation of the canopy will make the survival of Shekru difficult.

shekru makes loud rattling noise when it fears for the attack by predators. The animal warns other Shekrus. The animal builds nests on the tree top using leaves and twigs. It rarely comes down the trees on the land.

It is listed as Vulnerable Species in EUCN red list. The predators of this animal are large prey birds and leaopards. It is also in danger due to killing for its fur by humans. It is said that the animal can survive without fruits by eating leaves in the season when the fruits are scares. Due to its loud rattling calls it can be located easily by the predators.

As I was taking the snaps, the animal jumped and started watching the singing Shama. Later I noticed that it was not looking at Shama, but another Shekru on the other tree brach exactly on my head. I watched over my head, to see other fellow eating mango exactly above my head. This is silhouette of the animal.

Bhimashankar is in North Westen Ghat area, with very heavy rains in Misty Mansoon season. It sees about 6000 mm rainfall annually. Hence the best time, to locate the Shekru is in late winter and summer. In mansoon never venture here with expensive photoequipments. It is very interesting to see this animal resting on its stomach on the tree branch and eating fruits by holding them in the hands.

When these animals sense the unusual noise or movements, instead of running away try to freeze its movements and lie on the tree branch. Shekru is normally seen alone or in pair.

The animals use their long tail for balancing while moving along the tree top branches.

Shekru is Arboreal animal. Arboreal animal is one which spends large amounts of time in trees.

Shekru is Diurnal. Diurnality indicates an animal that is active during the daytime and rests during the night.Genus of the Shekru is Ratufa, which stands for Giant Squirrels. .

The long tail, puts the photographer in situation that one faces while photographing male Paradise flycatcher. It is very good in balancing act. I also noticed that the animal paused before jumping from one branch to the other branch.

The forest department has put boards on this patch of the road, requesting the passing vehicle drivers to keep silence. However due to sharp bends on the road, almost everybody was seen using vehicle horn, with some cars playing latest Bollywood songs !!

Though plastic usage is banned by forest department, all the variety of plastic items were seen around.

The continuity of the canopy of the tall tree tops is at risk, as the road has been widened. Also many villagers and pilgrims were seen collecting fruits from the forest meant for the Shekrus and Langurs. More than 100 thousand pilgrims visit Bhimashankar Temple during the Annual festivals such as Shivaratri. Inspite of all the adverse conditions, Shekru Survives. Its survival rests on delicate habitat sustainance.


Contact me at kale_v@rediffmail.com for any queries and suggestions.