Southwest China records discovery of the rarest and most wanted species of flying squirrel

In an unexpected incident, one of the rarest species of squirrel- the flying squirrel was spotted among the collection of China’s, Kunming Institute of Zoology (KIZ).

As described in 1981, the squirrel is identified as one of the most mysterious and the rarest among all the flying squirrels. Endemic to South Asia, a single specimen of Namdapha flying squirrel in India and Laotian giant flying squirrel in Lao PDR, was found in 1981 and 2013 respectively.

The recent discovery of the species was collected from the Mount Gaoligong in Yunnan Province, Southwest China by Quan Li, an in-house expert of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Immediately after the discovery the specimen was thought to be identical with the Namdapha flying squirrel. An individual species which was thought to be missing, in addition to being critically endangered, ever since its original description made in 1981, the species was regarded among the top 25 ‘most wanted species’ in the world by the Global Wildlife Conservation.

Later after an in-depth study of the specimen, it was found that the squirrel from KIZ belonged to a previously unknown species. It was featured with colouration, skull as well as teeth anatomy. Upon discovery, Quan Li’s team of experts from China as well as from Australia conducted a new field survey.

According to reports, the team acquired another specimen of the flying squirrel and made observations based on the two flying squirrels. Results included another specimen to the genus of the rare squirrels, Biswamoyopterus gaoligongensis, which is also known as Mount Gaoligong, the flying squirrel.

According to a report by Quan Li with regards to the discovery of the new specimen, he said; “The morphological features of B. gaoligongensis are closer to the critically endangered and missing Namdapha flying squirrel, but is still readily identifiable as a distinct species.”

“The new species was discovered in the ‘blank area’ spanning 1,250 km between the isolated habitats of the two known species, which suggests that the genus is much more widespread than previously thought. There is still hope for new Biswamoyopterus populations to be discovered in between or right next to the already known localities,” he adds.

The newly discovered species of the squirrel is likely to be inhabited in low-altitude forests, which lay in close proximity to human settlements, according to experts. As a result, the squirrels were vulnerable to anthropogenic threats, in addition to poaching and agricultural reclamation.

The discovery of the newly founded species was introduced in a paper published in the open-access journal, ZooKeys.