The Indian giant squirrel (Ratufa indica) is a large multi-coloured tree squirrel species. It is a diurnal, arboreal, and mainly herbivorous squirrel. It is the state animal of the state of Maharashtra in western India and in there in local language (Marathi) it is called shekaru.
The Indian giant squirrel is one of the most cute and lovable squirrels around the globe. It exhibits 2-3 types of color patterns with shades of black, brown, and deep red. The body varies from deep red to brown with white patches on the belly as well as dirty white or cream-colored under-parts and forelimbs. The Indian giant squirrel has pink lips and nose. The eyes are colored in bright dark or light brown. The powerful and long tail is light brown with a creamy white tip.
The Indian giant squirrel is a native Indian species, where this animal occurs in the Satpura hill range of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. The preferred habitat of this rodent is deciduous and most evergreen forests, found throughout peninsular India.
These rodents are generally solitary animals, occasionally living in pairs during the mating season. These cautious and shy creatures are usually active early in the morning and in the evening. During the midday, they rest in tree holes or large, globe-shaped nests, constructed out of twigs and leaves and typically located in trees. Each squirrel has 2-5 nests, found within a small territory. One of these nests is made exclusively for producing and nursing the young, while others are used as sleeping sites. Indian giant squirrels are also very agile animals, able to take leaps of up to 6 meters (20 ft) when traveling among trees. When in danger, they often freeze or flatten themselves against the tree trunk, instead of fleeing.
The reproductive habits and behavior of this species are insufficiently explored, although males are known to compete for their mating rights. Occasionally, pairs remain together for long periods of time. Indian giant squirrels breed either year-round or several times per year. The gestation period is likely to last 28-35 days, yielding 1-2, sometimes 3 young. They weigh 74.5 g at birth and have a length of 27.3 cm. The young are nursed and grown in nests, located on tree branches. Their nests are as large as those of eagles. After a while, young squirrels start coming out of the nest and soon they become independent.
Factors such as selective logging, dam construction, monoculture plantation, and clear felling have led to the degradation of this species' natural habitat. Furthermore, the Indian giant squirrels are hunted for food throughout their habitat, particularly in the Eastern Ghats, largely due to urban development.
According to IUCN, the Indian giant squirrel is common and widespread throughout its range but no overall population estimate is available. However, according to the Pune Mirror resource, the number of squirrels in Maharashtra was estimated to be around 1,800-1,900 individuals. Overall, Indian giant squirrels are classified as Least Concern (LC), but their numbers are decreasing today.
Due to feeding upon a wide variety of plants, these rodents act as key seed dispersers of these species, thus benefiting the local ecosystem.