The Woolly flying squirrel exhibits atypical behaviors and physiological structure for a squirrel species. Moreover, this unique animal is a true record-holder: one of the least-known and insufficiently explored mammals around the globe, the Woolly flying squirrel is also the largest flying squirrel, the longest squirrel and finally, the heaviest of all gliding mammals. This rodent had not been spotted in the wild since 1924 and was believed to have gone extinct until the summer of 1994, when an American zoologist found this species in a remote valley of Kashmir region, in the extreme north of Pakistan. The life expectancy of the Woolly flying squirrel is unknown for today. However, other closely related squirrels are known to live 4 - 5 years in the wild and 10 - 15 years in captivity on average.
Originally, all available information on this animal came from a few specimens, found in Kashmir (northern Pakistan) and northern Sikkim (India). The current range of this species is restricted to a tiny area in Diamer and southern Gilgit districts in northern Pakistan, although the Woolly flying squirrels can possibly be found in India and other neighboring countries. Preferred habitat of these rodents is caves and crevices, found on steep cliffs in dry conifer forests. These areas were originally covered with dense forests, dominated by blue pine, chilgoza pine, junipers, scattered deodar cedar as well as spruce and fir, growing in higher and moister valleys.
There is currently very little information on habits and behavior of this species. The Woolly flying squirrels are known to inhabit pine forests, found at high elevations in the Himalayas. They generally occur near cliffs as well as rocky caves and crevices. These rodents are nocturnal animals, spending their daytime hours in shelters. Although winters in the Himalayas are very harsh, these animals don't hibernate. Instead, they remain active throughout the cold winter months, generally feeding upon mosses and lichens, growing on rocks. When buds and cones appear, the squirrels occasionally travel to boreal forests to collect them. Due to its large size and blunt claws, this terrestrial mammal cannot climb trees. Communication habits of this species are unknown, although the squirrels give out a cry, which is thought to occur after death of a loved one.
These rodents are herbivores, they generally feed upon mosses, lichens, buds and cones. They are known to especially favor cones of Picea morinda - the native spruce.
There is little information on the mating system and habits of the Woolly flying squirrels. However, an immature specimen was found on April 17, suggesting that they may breed in early spring. Females are believed to yield two litters per season.
The biggest threat to the Woolly flying squirrel is loss of its natural habitat as a result of mass clear-cutting of forests. Other notable concerns include expansion of human settlements, development of infrastructure and agriculture as well as localized logging.
The IUCN Red List doesn’t provide the exact number of the Woolly flying squirrels’ population; however, population in the core region of Diamer is suggested to be around 1,000 - 3,000 individuals. Currently, the Woolly flying squirrel is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List.