Only 70 giant Malabar squirrels left in Western Ghats, environmentalists say rampant mining in forest areas around Kalane village in Sindhudurg district shrinking state animal's natural home.

Though the Ministry of Environment and Forests has extended the moratorium put on giving out new leases to 49 mines in Sindhudurg district of the Konkan region, environment activists say that the existing mining work being carried out at Kalane village is gradually jeopardising the habitat of the giant Malabar squirrel, which is locally known as 'Shekru' and enjoys the status of state animal.

Home truth: The giant Malabar squirrel, locally known as the 'Shekru',
enjoys the status of state animal, but its habitat and existence is steadily
being threatened by extensive mining in Sindhudurg distric

The activists say the mining companies often resort to illegal practices on the sly, like excavating in forest areas and dumping toxic material in water bodies. They say if this goes on unchecked, it will soon deprive the state animal of its natural habitat.

Mining activity near Kalane village in Sindhudurg district

70 squirrels left
The population of the squirrel, which was not even notified in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report prepared last year on the mining by the Environment Ministry, is said to be about 70 in the Western Ghats. The state animal is losing its habitat because of the destruction of forest areas in Kalane, where the state government has granted 32 mining leases.

Kalane is in the heart of the wildlife corridor connecting the Sahyadri tiger reserve in the north, where the activists claim the upper portions of the mountains are being split up and cut down and more than 18 lakh trees have been chopped in less than two years in the Sawantwadi Dodamarg region. "These squirrels are found particularly in the crust line of the forests and need good amount of canopy and fruit-bearing trees. There are only a few patches in which they can survive. We can't create such forests elsewhere for the squirrels, so mining has to stop in this region," said M K Rao, Chief Conservator of Forests, Pune.

Toxic release
Activists have also expressed their concern over the major water body in the region turning toxic because of the excavation work. "The area is full of perennial water streams and as the mountain is being destroyed, the terracotta is entering the Kalane river and is making it toxic, which is harmful for the wildlife," said environmentalist Stalin D of Vanashakti. 

There are about six tigers in Kalane, and about 21 tigers in the entire corridor, besides other wildlife like leopards, sloth bear, pangolin, porcupine, Indian rock python and pied hornbill. Stalin had also written to the Collector, the Ministry of Industries and the Ministry of Environment recommending cancellation of lease granted to the a particular company that he said was carrying out illegal mining, but to no avail. "The silt from the mine is dumped on the adjacent land, which is private and they call it their property. It has been using this method for  a year now and expanding the mining area," said Stalin.