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Why We Think There Are So Many Squirrels Scurrying Around Metro Manila

Squirrel sightings were first reported in 2007.
IMAGE Mario Alvaro Limos
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The next time you jog around the parks in Metro Manila, look up at the trees. There's a fair chance you’ll spot a squirrel jumping from branch to branch.

Startled pedestrians often mistake them for rats, until they spot their tufty tails and realize they’re actually squirrels. Many of the squirrels spotted in Metro Manila have a gray coat with a white underbelly, and a fluffy gray tail.  That’s about as much as we know about them.

Many Filipinos’ squirrel knowledge is limited to cartoon depictions and Disney’s Chip ‘n’ Dale, who are not even squirrels but chipmunks. Chipmunks and squirrels are rodents, which means they are closely related to rats

The first squirrel sightings in Metro Manila were reported in 2007 in a village in Makati, according to the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB). Villagers reported seeing speedy rodents running across the street and zooming up the electrical posts, too fast to observe.

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Invasive Species: Finlayson's Squirrel

Photo by Rushenb | Flickr | Wikimedia Commons.
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Now, squirrels are everywhere: They can be spotted around Ayala Alabang, BF Homes, Magallanes, Dasmariñas Village, Forbes Park, BGC, and even as far as some villages in Quezon City. The critters can be spotted on treetops (usually narra and acacia trees), on garbage cans, running along electrical wires, and crossing the street.

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This particular squirrel was caught by a homeowner in BF Homes and is now kept in a cage as a pet. It is fed fruit, nuts, and seeds.

Photo by Mario Alvaro Limos.

 

Where did the squirrels in Metro Manila come from?

According to PAWB, the squirrels that were reportedly seen in Metro Manila are likely an invasive species called Finlayson’s squirrel, which is endemic to Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand.

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“It looks like it’s not a Philippine squirrel, but we need to confirm further,” said Mundita Lim of PAWB in a 2013 report by GMA News.

According to PAWB, it is likely the squirrels were intentionally released into the city, or that they escaped from someone who had been breeding them.

Based on the reported sightings, it can be deduced that the squirrels were released in the southern part of Metro Manila (Alabang, BF Homes, Forbes Park), and are spreading fast to other cities in the region.

Although the Philippines has its own species of squirrel, this is only found in Palawan, the Visayas, and Mindanao. The Palawan tree squirrel and has a striking coat of white with orange tones. This species, called Northern Palawan Tree Squirrel, was discovered in 2008 and is an endangered species.

 

Tarsier spotted being chased by squirrel in Forbes Park

In June 2013, a squirrel was reportedly seen chasing a Philippine tarsier across a golf course in Forbes Park. Philippine tarsiers are listed as a near-threatened species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

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It was not clear whether the squirrel was playing with the tarsier or trying to eat it.

Contrary to common belief, squirrels are also predators: They prey on small birds or nestlings, bird eggs, young snakes, smaller rodents, and a variety of insects.

This is why the PAWB is worried about the impact of squirrels in Metro Manila as an invasive species, especially when their population spreads to protected areas surrounding Metro Manila.

Baby Squirrels

Photo by Tejal Modhavadiya | Wikimedia Commons.
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A single female squirrel can produce as many as 10 offspring a year. Because they are an invasive species, they have no natural predators, and could seriously disrupt the ecosystem in areas where they will spread, such as in Mt. Makiling and Mt. Banahaw south of NCR, and Masungi Georeserve in the east, and the heavily forested areas in Sierra Madre mountain range.

The PAWB has even considered deploying trained birds of prey like hawks that could catch and kill squirrels in Metro Manila.

Do not keep squirrels as pets

Wild squirrels you see on the streets could be vectors of diseases such as rabies and other viruses, besides the possibility that they could harbor external parasites. Squirrels are considered pests in some countries.

Squirrels are also considered wild animals, and keeping or raising such animals as pets is considered illegal.

“Collecting, hunting or possessing wildlife species, both flora and fauna, without a valid permit from the government is illegal,” said environment secretary Roy Cimatu in a statement in 2018.

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Mario Alvaro Limos
Features Editor, Esquire Philippines
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