A Legend that Turned into Discovery

First Reporting of Flying Squirrel and Mouse Deer Near Udaipur
By Dr. Raza.H.Tehsin
Published: April 1, 2013 | Last Updated: 01 April 2013 7:47 PM
Comments1 Comment


file-photosThe Legend:

I used to go on frequent jungle excursions with my father T. H. Tehsin since childhood. During those excursions on the campfire at nights we had constant interaction with the tribal folk. The tribals in the jungles of Dhariyavad and Panarwa often spoke of a legend of an animal, which emerged in the night from its hideout and if it flew over the head of any person, he or she was doomed to die.

The Expedition:

In June 1979 we took an expedition to the jungles of Dhariyavad to explore this legend. Our base camp was near Aarampura. This place was once a village. In the bygone days the entire population of this village was wiped out by an epidemic. After a lapse of a few years, natives returned. Misfortune befell again on them and another epidemic broke out. Not a single person escaped from the clutches of death this time. When we reached, the village was abandoned. Some of the tribals claimed that there was a spirit that resided in a well in the abandoned village and it contained poisonous water. They said the spirit emerged from the well during nights and wandered into the jungles.

The Quest:

After extensive discussions, our team, which consisted of my father T. H. Tehsin, my brother Rafiq Tehsin, Rajnikant Verma, forest officer Shakti Mohan and the local trekker Bhagga, marked three different points in the jungle in the radius of 20 km from Aarampura village. We tirelessly combed these spots, day and night, for six consecutive days but all this effort was in vain. We spotted a Ram Gai (Mouse Deer), which was a new reporting from the region, but the spirit eluded us. On the seventh day of our search, while sitting in the evening on the slope of a low hill, a tired and disheartened Shakti Mohan ji told me that this was nothing but waste of time and energy. And that we must abandon the search.

The Discovery:

While we were having this discussion, the sun had already set. The visibility had become very dim. Just then Bhagga fearfully pointed up and exclaimed in Mewari, “There goes the flying spirit!” We all raised our heads to finally behold that fabled evil spirit. I immediately recognised it as the Giant Brown Flying Squirrel! Relief dawned on all of us as we headed back to our base camp.

The next day we marked the feeding ground of the flying squirrel and took up our position in the evening in a hide for night vigil. As per the habit of flying squirrels, it appeared on the tree the next evening soon after sunset and we clearly observed it. There was no iota of doubt left that the legend was nothing but the flying squirrel. Our expedition returned home jubilant. It was further identified by Bombay Natural History Society as Large Brown Flying Squirrel. Thus ended the myth of the Gliding Spirit.

The Reporting was published in Journal of BNHS, 1980:

Journal of Bombay Natural History Society:

Tehsin, R. H. (1980) Occurrence Of The Large Brown Flying Squirrel & Mouse Deer Near Udaipur, Rajasthan. J. Bom. Nat. Hist. Soc. 77(3): 498

Large Brown Flying Squirrel (Petaurista petaurista philippensis) and Mouse Deer (Tragulus meminna) have not been reported from Rajasthan so far (Ellerman & Morrison-Scott 1951, Prater 1980). Recently I saw Large Brown Flying Squirrel and Mouse Deer in the teak dominated, dry deciduous forests of Dharyavad (c24°4¢N, 74°24¢E) near Udaipur.

I have seen Flying Squirrels in the jungles of Jharol, Gogunda and Kotra Tehsils of Udaipur also. In the early thirties my father shot two Mouse Deer in the jungles of Jharol (c 24°N, 73°E). The local name of Mouse Deer is ‘Phonkra’. The forests in these areas are Tropical Dry Deciduous Miscellaneous Forests.

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2 thoughts on “A Legend that Turned into Discovery

  1. Hi Arefa, This is quite a ‘discovery’!! Lot of us, specially the younger generation, don’t even know that squirrels can ‘fly’, leave alone that they’re found in India.
    It does feel strange when a child thinks Puma is a shoe, Caterpillar a giant machine or Jaguar a car…The world is indeed moving away from all that’s natural and beautiful. Sometimes I do feel there has to be a way to stop this gap from widening. Let’s connect on how to go about this. I know you’re already doing a lot in this area, may be I can input something from my background & experience towards this.
    Regards, Syed

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