It was early November, 2016. I was going up the enthralling trails through Khangchendzonga National Park, to Goecha La. Our guide Sanjay had already taken notice of my keen interest in wildlife. So, when I reached Phedang (3636 m), leading the last of the trekkers from the batch of 8 first timers on the 3rd day of the trek, he ran up to me and told me to follow him. I was left with no doubt that he had made an interesting wild observation and followed him. It was a Grey headed flying squirrel. I was not to know that for sometime still, and also the fact that it was an elusive creature of this part of the Himalayas that I have learned to adore so much in the last few years.
Just beside the forest hut, a crowd of people had gathered which included local guides, porters as well as visiting trekkers. I huddled in. There was a relatively big squirrel sitting in between the anxious onlookers, apparently paying no heed to this ongoing bustle, that surely this fellow was not accustomed with. It looked rare, and of course something I had not seen before. Someone mentioned that it was a flying squirrel but not the kind which is usually found at lower altitudes in the region. I had learnt it later that it was the cousin of our protagonist – the orange bellied flying squirrel. Later that day, on inquiring further, I found no one present there who had seen this creature before.
The squirrel sat there for minutes, moving very few muscles in the process. It’s hard to believe that it was not scared of the out of place humans in their trekking avatars, with their walking sticks and their heavy rucksacks. Was it deaf, blind, shocked? Why does it not run away? I wondered.
The squirrel bent its head down a little low and put its lips in a hole on the ground that lay immediately in front of it and started drinking the melted frost and snow that had accumulated there. This went on for a few seconds before it slowly turned away from the amazed crowd and hobbled its way into the Rhododendron thickets beside the hut. I remember feeling relieved that this individual had gone back to where it belongs, away from the staring eyes and snapping shutters.
After coming back to Kolkata and narrowing down my search to flying squirrels of Eastern Himalayas, and of course with a bit of help from my Facebook allies from various wildlife forums, I found out that it was a Grey headed flying squirrel.
Here is a link of the IUCN Red List which tells us the status of this mammal as least concern, however with very few wild records against its name;
When I searched for images on google, it threw up only two images of the species and the rest were all of the Grey headed flying fox, a fruit bat native to Australia, thousands of miles away. Its comically surprising that their faces are uncannily similar when seen front-on. Oh Nature, you keep amazing me!