The world’s gliding mammals are an extraordinary group of animals that have the ability to glide from tree to tree with seemingly effortless grace. There are more than 60 species of gliding mammals including the flying squirrels from Europe and North America, the scaly-tailed flying squirrels from central Africa and the gliding possums of Australia and New Guinea.
Description: One of the largest of all the gliding mammals, it has a comparatively shorter tail than other large gliders. Its fur is thick and heavy, with its upper surface grizzled brownish-grey with a scattering of pale buff-tipped hairs that gives it a blue-grey tinge.
The fur on its underparts is a paler grey. Its throat often has creamy white hairs and the ears are thickly fringed with pale buff hairs. Its feet are comparatively larger and longer than the giant flying squirrels with the soles densely furred and showing a more restricted area of naked pads.
The fur on the soles of its feet is black, with the naked pads being pinkish-brown, and there are five strongly developed digits on the hind feet. Despite its name the fur is not woolly but is instead straight and silky. It differs from all other gliding mammals in having high crown teeth that are more similar to beavers than other squirrels.
Distribution: Thought to be extinct, it was rediscovered in 1994 in north Pakistan between Hurkus and Gashu Gah. It appears to be restricted to only a few localities between
The area is characterised by patchy forests with herbs and shrubs (Artemisia sp.), junipers (Juniperus sp.), Chilgoza Pine (Pinus gerardiana), Blue Pine (Pinus wallichiana) and Morinda Spruce (Picea smithiana).
Reproduction: Breeding may occur very early in spring; and two litters in a year of two or three young may be produced.
Diet: It was thought to feed on lichens, mosses, and other rock-loving plants and also the buds and cones of the Morinda Spruce. However, it is now believed to feed mostly or entirely on pine needles but may supplement its diet with other food items. Such a diet is extremely unusual for a mammal and may explain its remarkable tooth structure.
Ecology: Not normally a tree dweller, except when feeding, it appears to be solitary and active all year, living among rock caves in vertical cliffs. A nest on a shelf of the cave at 3230 metres is believed to be that of the species.
It was shaped like a flat bowl (50 cm x 40 cm) and composed of bark and branches of Greek Juniper (Juniperus excelsa) and grasses. These caves are not easily reached by predators such as Red Foxes (Vulpes vulpes) which are common in the area. However, the Eagle Owl (Bubo bubo) appears to be a predator.
Status: Endangered. Destruction of high-elevation pine woodlands in its habitat is a significant threat to the survival of this species.
Note: The Pakistan Woolly Flying Squirrel is held in some regard for a material called salajit, which is thought by some to be a hardened mixture of its urine and faeces. It is collected from caves and sold as a medicinal potion.