Wednesday, November 30

Squirrels in the City

A couple of Saturdays ago, I met up briefly with Adri and his group of Japanese birders at nearby La Mesa Eco Park (LMEP). One of the first creatures we spotted, right there at the parking lot, was a squirrel! It was high up in the narra trees, busy gnawing at something on the branches.

There are no squirrels native to Luzon island, but sightings have been more and more frequent in the past few years, especially in Metro Manila.

A Finlayson's squirrel (Callosciurus finalysonii) in La Mesa Eco Park

Finlayson's squirrels (Callosciurus finalysonii) are originally from Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, and are thought to have been introduced locally through the pet trade.

I first saw them as a new birdwatcher at the American War Cemetery in Taguig.  It was a common experience then to be distracted from birding by the sight of a furry creature with a long bushy tail scampering across the manicured lawns and rows of white crosses at the cemetery.  Since then, I've seen them at the Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife in Quezon City and at Avilon Zoo (outside the cages!) in Rodriguez.  My brother, who lives in Alabang, has often complained about them raiding bird's nests and chewing on electric and communications cables in their neighborhood.  Fellow birders have spotted them at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, the residential areas of Dasmariñas and Forbes Park in Makati, and more recently at the Baclaran Church compound!

Having been born and raised in Metro Manila by parents who are also from Luzon, I was only familiar with squirrels from story books when I was very young (yes, Beatrix Potter's Squirrel Nutkin!) and picture books which showed mostly North American fauna. I was thrilled to learn (quite late I admit) that there were squirrels native to the Philippines.  I always love seeing the red, noisy tree squirrels on Palawan the locals call bising (and AT LEAST once I saw a squirrel in Mindanao).  

A Palawan Tree Squirrel (Sundasciurus juvencusin Puerto Princesa

A  Mindanao Squirrel (Sundasciurus mindanensisfrom Mt. Talomo in Davao. 
Photo c/o Adri

I find squirrels quite cute (note, they ARE rodents like the more often detested mice and rats, but I'm sure I'm not the only one who finds them cute). They scamper about the trees, moving up and down almost non stop, waving their bushy tails in the air. The Finlayson's is definitely no less cute in my book.

The problem is that the Finlayson's is not a native and it seems to be spreading quite quickly. It's already known to cause damage to man-made structures, especially electric wires, and is really becoming a pest. How else will it affect the environments (and the native species that live there) it is rapidly invading?  

The Finlayson's squirrel is already an entry in a wonderfully informative book which came out this year "The Mammals of Luzon Island: Biogeography and Natural History of a Philippine Fauna" by Heaney, Balete and Rickart.  It looks like this mammalian "foreigner" is here to stay in Luzon, much like the more familiar Long-tailed Macaques and Civet Cats which are also thought to have been introduced to Luzon long, long ago, and which have now been "naturalized". Here to stay, for better or (more likely) for worse.

So keep an eye out for these little mammals in your backyard Metro Manilans! Who would've thought, squirrels in the city.

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