First encounter with Cream-coloured Giant Squirrel at Panti Forest

posted in: Fauna, Mammals | 5

“I had a memorable encounter while looking for birds with friends on 14 Dec 2015 at Panti forest (Johor, Malaysia). My friend, Mr Loo Hin Chong first caught sight of the elegant Cream Coloured Giant squirrel (Ratufa Afinis Afinis), the original pale form, high up the canopy (Picture 1, above). It took my breath away for a few seconds before my senses kicked in to quickly snap photos of this beautiful creature. Fortunately for us, the squirrel stayed at the same location for a good 5 minutes, providing various poses for us.

“History has it that Sir Stamford Raffles was the first person to discover and document the original pale form in 1822 in Singapore (Source: Ecologyasia.com). I am sure he had the same reaction as me when he saw it for the first time. Picture 2 (above) shows the original painting of this squirrel during that era and it belongs to Natural History Drawings, The Complete William Farquhar Collection. Unfortunately, this once common squirrel has gone extinct in Singapore.

“Picture 3 (above) shows the subspecies which has predominantly dark upper parts and pale underparts, with orange patches on its cheeks and front legs. This photo which clearly shows the sheer size and whole length of this squirrel, was taken by Mr Loo Hin Chong at Penang Botanical Gardens a few years ago.

The head to body length of this squirrel can reach 38cm and the tail can reach 44cm. This squirrel can weigh up to 1.5kg. It is mainly arboreal and feeds on forest seeds, leaves and barks. Its range extends from Southern Thailand, Malay Peninsular to Borneo (Source: Ecologyasia.com).

“In Picture 1, we can clearly see the pale creamy colour covering the entire length of the species Ratufa Afinis Afinis, with tinge of orange hues on the flanks, shoulders, limbs and crown. Another interesting feature is the underside of the bushy tail, which clearly shows the central bony structure. We can also quickly see that the tail is much longer than its body. The eyes are relatively large but the ears are small and round.

“In Picture 4 (above), the squirrel is posing with its body twisted backwards. We can clearly see the top side of the bushy tail which is much darker than other parts of the body, except the muzzle. The side profile of the head shows its flat forehead that tapers sharply near the nose.

“In Picture 5 (above), it shows how flexible the body can be, with the squirrel either sniffing or scratching its back, but I am not sure what this behavior is.

“In Picture 6 (above), it shows the typical sitting or resting position of this squirrel, with its tail hanging down (Source: Animal Diversity Web).

“Unlike other tree squirrels, the Cream-coloured Giant Squirrel does not sit upright with its tail arched over its back while feeding; instead, it balances itself with its hind feet on a branch so that its hands are free to control its food. In this position the axis of the squirrel’s body is held at right angles to the support, with its head and forequarters on one side of the branch, and the tail as a counterweight on the other side (Source: Wikipedia). I don’t have a photo of the cream coloured giant squirrel exhibiting this behavior. However, I do have a photo of a Plantain squirrel feeding this way, see Picture 7 (above).

“In conclusion, it was pure delight in observing and photographing this huge elegant creature.”

Thong Chow Ngian & Loo Hin Chong
Singapore
23rd December 2016

5 Responses

  1. I thought for a moment they are back in Singapore. I have only see it once in Frasers Hill some years ago…

  2. I’m pretty sure Raffles had a different reaction: first thought of naturalists back then was ‘Shoot!’

  3. Subaraj Rajathurai

    Hi,

    The 3rd photo does not show a sub-species of Ratufa affinis (Cream-coloured Giant Squirrel) but the other giant squirrel species in Malaysia, Ratufa bicolor (Black Giant Squirrel).

    Subaraj

  4. Thong Chow Ngian

    Thank you Subaraj for your feedback.

  5. Thong Chow Ngian

    Dear Slow, thank you for that interesting insight.Maybe that specimen in the former Raffles Biodiversity museum was gotten that way. Cheers.

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