A small raptor took off from a tree a few feet from us. The cameras had captured some “record shots” and the field guides promptly came out. The prominent black wing-tips gave us the lead – Chinese Sparrowhawk. A lifer! Well, this was near Campbell Bay on Great Nicobar island.
As we were celebrating this, we heard soft squeaks from the tree above. Tracing the source of the sounds, we chanced upon a small squirrel-like animal running up and down different branches. I was dumbstruck as I didn’t recollect reading about squirrels in Nicobar. Could this be what I think it is? A glimpse of the bushy tail. A long snout running through the leaf cover. It took some more minutes of desperate seeking before it appeared in clear view. A Treeshrew! A brief second later, it was gone again.
We had come across the endangered Nicobar Treeshrew (Tupaia nicobarica). This is the smallest of the 3 treeshrew species found in India. It is chiefly arboreal (found on trees) and diurnal (active during the day) in its habits. There are 2 known subspecies – T.n.nicobarica from Great Nicobar and T.n.surda from Little Nicobar. The brief encounter had not given an opportunity for the camera to come out. And thus the yearning began…
The Nicobar Treeshrew turned out to be reasonably common around Campbell Bay. We kept encountering this small mammal at different places, typically in forest patches where human interference was the least. The very busy animal that it was, it took me 3 more days before I could make the above photograph.
5 facts about Treeshrews –
- Treeshrews are not shrews or squirrels. They are not even rodents. They belong to their own Order Scandentia.
- They are closely related to primates. In fact, they have been used in experimental medical studies as an alternative to primates.
- The 19 known species are all found in South and South-east Asia.
- They have the largest brain to body mass ratio amongst mammals.
- Indian has 3 known species of Treeshrew – Madras Treeshrew (found in Peninsular and South India), Northern Treeshrew (found in North-east India) and Nicobar Treeshrew (endemic to Nicobar islands).