Cream-Coloured Giant Squirrel Ratufa affinis

The Cream-Coloured Giant squirrel (Ratufa affinis) is a large tree squirrel in the genus Ratufa found in Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand. It is probably extinct in Singapore, as no recent sightings have been made. Reported sightings in Vietnam in 1984 are considered to be dubious.

Description

Along with its large size, this squirrel's colourful markings, that vary widely from one individual to the next, makes it readily-identifiable and easily-spotted in the wild. The back and head of the body varies from dark brown to grey, and the belly varies from dark yellow to white. The ears are short and round. The adult squirrel's head and body is from 322 to 350 millimetres (12.7 to 14 in) in length, and the tail is 373 to 438 millimetres (14.7 to 17.2 in) long, with an overall length of 695 to 788 millimetres (27.4 to 31.0 in); the weight is between 929 to 1,575 grams (2.05 to 3.47 lb). The subspecies found in Thailand R.a pyrsonota is characterizes by relatively dark pelage, light orange brown underparts, ochreous underparts and dark brown feet. The ears are also dark brown, and the tail darker than the body. The cheek area is light grey agouti. The underparts are often speckled. The female possesses three pairs of mammae.

Habitat

This species is the only giant squirrel in Borneo (elsewhere its distribution overlaps with that of the black giant squirrel). It is one of the mammal species found in the extensive Belum-Temengor forest preserve in the Malaysian state of Perak, on the Malay Peninsula.
The Cream-Coloured Giant squirrel makes its home in lower montane and secondary forests, frequenting dipterocarp trees. It rarely enters plantations or settlements, preferring the forest. Although this squirrel primarily inhabits the upper canopy of the forest, it will at times come to ground in order to hunt smaller species of squirrels or to cross gaps in the trees. This is a closed canopy species that is never seen on ground, and is dependent on tall, wet evergreen forests (Giman pers. comm.). This species can tolerate plantations and secondary forest (Giman pers. comm.). This is an arboreal species (Saiful and Nordin 2004). It has been suggested that one of the reasons for low densities of this species in Malaysian tropical rain forest is competition from the great variety of other arboreal vertebrates (such as birds, and especially primates) for food, especially fruits and leaves, which are among the food items preferred by squirrels (Saiful and Nordin 2004).

Behaviour

This species is diurnal, active during morning and evening. They live either in pairs or alone. When it is angry or shocked, it will give a loud sound that can be heard from afar. Although this squirrel often will make holes in trees for shelter, during the breeding season it constructs a large globular drey (or nest) in tree branches, roughly the size of an eagle’s aerie. Little is know of the breeding habits but the young are born and raised in this nest.
The main dietary habits of Ratufa affinis are seeds, which it supplements with leaves, fruits, nuts, bark, insects, and eggs. The squirrel has a very short thumb that it uses to hold and control its food while feeding. 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 squirrels 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.

Major Threat(s):

This species is threatened by logging and hunting in forest fragments, it is probably sensitive to even selective logging (Giman pers. comm.).

Conservation

This species occurs in many protected areas (Han and Giman pers comm.). It is protected in Sarawak and Malaysia (Giman and Han pers. comm.), as well as probably in Thailand (Giman pers. comm.). It also protected by CITES Appendix II (Han and Giman pers. comm.). Saiful and Nordin (2004) state the need for further comparative study on this species' abundance, density and distribution and its relationship to forest structure or habitat quality, spatially and temporally, in hill dipterocarp forest of Malaysia

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