Nights at Singinawa Jungle Lodge- the story of the Gliding Squirrels

The 110 acre expanse of wilderness that is Singinawa Jungle Lodge encompasses Sal forests, riverine forests, grasslands and thick bamboo forests. This varied habitat provides a healthy habitat for the animals of the buffer zone of Kanha Tiger Reserve. We can proudly see that we have extended the buffer zone by another 110 acres with our planting and habitat modelling over the years. The wildlife to their time to trust us but recently the results have been great. The three resident spotted deer herds, multiple troops of Langurs and the large sounders of Wild Boar were the first to trust us. They roam freely through the property, sometimes walking between the cottages at dawn, dusk and at night. The secretive representatives like the Barking Deer or the Indian Muntjac, Gaur, Rhesus Macaques and Sambhar are seldom seen as they restrict themselves to the Bamboo patches around our water holes, coming out at twilight hours to satisfy their thirst. They are more often heard (when the cats come visiting) than seen. This healthy herbivore population was bound to attract carnivores like Leopards, Wild Dogs and sometimes even the beautiful tigress that patrols this and the surrounding forest patch. It was exciting to get these beauties on camera in our grounds. It was definitely a moment of delight for the entire team as all our efforts were paying off.

As exciting as these encounters and sightings maybe, the true benefit of this healthy environment within our boundaries lies in the fact that this is the best opportunity to study the nocturnal life of the region. These animals are seldom seen as the park is open only from dawn to dusk. What happens after that was always a mystery. Apart from the random glimpse on the main road on the way to the lodge or park, there was no concrete basis to study these special members of this ecosystem. The regular setting up of camera traps and random night walks at various times of the night were scheduled to try and see what we get here. It got more exciting than we anticipated.

The Black-naped Hares were the first find as they seemed to be all over the property. It was the easiest catch, something even guests encountered on the way to their rooms after dinner. As exciting as the Hare were, we needed a bigger challenge.

We started off with a great find, the mass roosting of Fruit Bats or Flying Foxes on the banks of the Tannaur River. They use the planted Pine trees ( planted by a local nursery) and their thick foliage as cover from the sun during the day. They would fly to the river at dusk for a drink before heading out for their night feast. This kept us excited for a good few days but we needed to find more. The area around the Leopard Rock dinner spot seemed to be the hub for a pair of Indian Crested Porcupines (We also learnt that the collective noun for porcupines is ‘a prickle of porcupines’!!!Nice right!!!). They were caught on our camera traps and tracks were found at our waterhole but they haven’t been seen yet despite all our efforts. We probably need a better strategy to outsmart these sharp quilled and sharp witted members of the forest.

These two were really exciting catches. We also had multiple visits from a Jungle Cat, who probably came in looking for our Hares, adding to the night’s exciting list. The tracks of the rare Bengal Fox were seen on the sandy banks of the Tannaur River. This one probably uses that trail to get from their well-hidden subterranean den to the fields, looking for crabs, scorpions and small rodents en-route. These exciting catches were  a real treat for our efforts but one question always kept bothering us – ‘Where were the Civets’ ?

We decided to regularly walk the grounds at night looking for these long-tailed short-legged cat-like prowlers, especially around fruiting figs and the flowering Mahua trees. We were focussed on seeing the Palm Civet, a fruitarian and occasional carnivore as they are easier to find than the rarer Small Indian Civet. The Palm Civet spends the day in tree hollows, coming to the forest floor at night to feed. They are also known to be very active amongst the canopy when the bounty is plentiful. The canopy also acts as a refuge when they are disturbed, so when they see a carnivore or any such hindrance, they often climb the nearest tree and hide amongst the foliage. Thus, most of our focus was restricted to shining our torches amongst the tree branches. On one of these walks, we got the eye shine that we were waiting for. The animal was hidden amongst the leaves of a Kossam tree ( Schleichera oleosa) so all we could see was an eye shine. As we cautiously stepped closer, we saw something we definitely didn’t expect. The animal suddenly decided to fly to the next tree. What was this we saw!!! Definitely not a Fruit Bat as the eye-shine was too strong. And the animal did have a long tail. We approached the tree where we thought the animal had landed, our heads buzzing with thoughts and questions of the various possibilities. Could it be what we think this is?? In our property??

As we reached the tree we noticed that the animal was on a low perch. The view was much better this time and there was no doubt that we were looking at a Indian Giant Flying Squirrel ( Petaurista philippensis). A Flying Squirrel!! Just a few metres above us!!! We were ecstatic!!!

The grey coat, long dark tail, slender long feet, long claws designed for the perfect grip and the distinct flap of loose skin along its flank, the gliding flaps. Unmistakable!!! The animal stood there watching us for a long time, giving us time for a few clicks before it decided to go further up the tree and glide on. When in flight, we could see that there were two sets of flaps on each side- One that ran between the fore and hind limb, and the second that ran between the hind leg and the tail. This additional flap is the main difference between a flying squirrel and a giant flying squirrel; apart from the obvious size difference.  This flap helps them glide further and sometimes even short distances amongst the middle canopy.

Though widespread in most of peninsular India, these squirrels are now facing multiple dangers, mainly from loss of habitat. The chopping down of tall mature trees makes it hard for them to find a suitable tree hollow to rest for the day. Apart from this the constant planting of introduced tree species like the eucalyptus and the excessive collection of forest fruit for local demand have put increased pressures on them from various angles. They are now restricted to small pockets where healthy habitat remains intact, letting them thrive in peace.

Keeping all these factors in mind, it is absolutely incredible and satisfactory beyond measure that we have been able to find them in our premises. We found a second one in no time next to our water tank adding to our joys. The task now lies in finding the hollow that they use ( it might be harder  than we think). That will ensure that we keep that sight well protected and monitored to better understand these extraordinary creatures of the night.

We went looking for Civets and we got a few Flying Squirrels. Maybe we’ll find a Pangolin next time. We’ll definitely keep you all posted if we do.


 The Naturalist Team of Singinawa Jungle Lodge

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