SUBJECT :Biodiversity 
The first statewide population estimation exercise for the official state animal, the Giant Squirrel, will start later this week, forest officials said on Tuesday.

"This year, we have decided to carry out the exercise by counting as many giant squirrel nests as can be found. From next year onwards, a decision will be taken on whether it will be conducted using a line-transect method," said Sunil Limaye, chief conservator of forests (wildlife).

Although a population estimation exercise has been carried out in the Bhimashankar Wildlife Sanctuary for about 10 years, this is the first time it is being carried out in other parts of the state. In the western parts of the state, areas between Thane and Sawantwadi will be surveyed. Similarly in Vidarbha, the survey will be conducted in Gadchiroli and Chandrapur, he added.

"Across the state, on May 15, 16 and 17 the population estimation exercise will be carried out. But there is some flexibility in the dates, in some places it has already started," he said.

For instance, since Bhimashankar is a large area, May 18, 19 and 20 have been kept as reserve days on which the survey may continue if extra time is required.

"The Giant Squirrel is a very shy animal and so direct sighting is very difficult. The animal does produce a distinctive whistle-like sound, but if there is more than one in the area it will not be possible to know their exact number. This is why the indirect method of counting nests has been decided," Limaye said.

"Every Giant Squirrel is known to build an average of about six nests, so on dividing the total nests counted by six, we will get an idea about the population," he added.

The data collected in the first year of the exercise will be fine-tuned in subsequent surveys, which is why a decision has been taken to repeat the exercise for three years, he added.

For instance, keen observers can look at a Giant Squirrel nest can classify it as 'in use', 'under repair', 'abandoned' or 'nursery,' but personnel of the forest department have been asked to count all nests in this year's survey.

At every place where a nest is sighted, photographs, a GPS-reading will be taken. All the data collected will then be analyzed. The forest staff will also be accompanied by volunteers from NGOs, Limaye said.


Source: 13 May, 2015, The Economics Times