“Abai! How weird it looks. I haven’t seen an animal of this kind in my lifetime!”, gasped 60-year-old Grandma, Kanchi Lamichhane, a local of Bolakhe Village, Panauti-2, Nepal. “It looks like ‘half-mouse and half-rabbit’. Aw.. Look how it rolls the tail.” There were about six of us gazing at this never before seen creature and Grandma was not the only one surprised upon this encounter.
Shashi Bolakhe, a local resident at Bolakhe village, has been lucky in a sense that he gets to encounter and photograph ‘never-seen’ species around the locality in his morning walks. Couple of months back, he got a glimpse of a ‘Large Indian Civet’, that was crossing the road in the locality. And now he was set to encounter another.
On a wet and humid morning, as the early sun rays lightened up the cold october night, Shashi was having his quiet time: Enjoying the morning walk when he came across this weird creature. The animal was stagnant in the middle of the road with its tail so long that it covered its whole dorsal spine, all the way to its head.
A Grey-headed flying squirrel spotted at Bolakhe Gaun, Panauti-2, Kavre, Nepal /Shashi Bolakhe
Shashi was excited and his excitement made its way into social media. By noon, all the villagers were aware. They gathered in groups and tried nudging the creature. In the evening me along with Kanxi Grandma were there as she expressed her excitement with me.
Mr. Sanjan Thapa, a wildlife researcher at Small Mammal Conservation and Research Foundation (SMCRF), confirmed it to be a Grey-headed Flying Squirrel (Pteromys elegans). There still exists data deficiency on the species as few observations have been recorded from Gulmi, Gorkha, Nuwakot districts. And this encounter is set to become the first from Kavrepalanchowk District (SMCRF, 2016).
Distribution and status of Grey-headed Flying Squirrel/ courtesy: Sciuridae of Nepal, SMCRF, 2016
But, ‘the animal looked unwell or it was internally injured’, I guessed. When I heard that some locals touched the creature out of sympathy to relocate, and others to make it climb a tree, I was definitely worried: not only about the creature but regarding how we responded.
Wildlife harbors thousands of unknown contagions. As we come in close contact with the species, risk of contagion transmission gets high. Experts have found tangible evidence that even the current coronavirus pandemic might have resulted as contagion transfer refluxed viral genetic code while making its way from wild host to human.
Upon wild encounters one must be calm and careful. Injured large animals can be hard to handle and almost all wild mammals can pass rabies upon biting. Snake encounters can be deadly and a comprehensive guide for snake bite handling has been provided by World Health Organization (WHO). Direct touching and providing food to the wild animal most of the time can backfire.
There are many wild creatures that call our locality their home as well. Sometimes, climate change induces environmental and habitat change that results in biodiversity range shift. Animals never seen before can become prominent but it also brings up unique challenges. Lack of suitable habitat, unplanned human developmental activities and rampant deforestation also leads wildlife in conflict with the locals. Moreover, lack of wildlife encounter precautions puts a heavy challenge not only upon wildlife but also upon the human communities. Hence, the need of practical basic education about wildlife to the local resident is need of the hour.
(The writer acknowledges Mr. Naresh Kusi and Mr. Sanjan Thapa for the help in identification of the species.)
Mr. Bolakhe is a science writer who covers topics in environment, ecology, conservation, and evolutionary biology.