At about 8pm on the night of 8th September this year, Hassan Al-Razi Chayan and Abdur Rahim, accompanied by Forest Guard Mozaffer, were walking on a trail of Adampur Forest in Moulvi Bazar. They were searching for nocturnal animals using several headlamps. At one point, Rahim spotted something on a tree, about ten feet from the ground. He called out and all three men gathered under the tree. They photographed the animal. Although it looked like a mouse, its tail was unusual. They could not identify it.
Thinking of capturing it as a specimen, they shook the tree and the animal fell to the ground. While it was stunned for a few seconds, the explorers could have caught it. However, it was so cute that they decided to leave it alone.
Next day, Chayan posted photographs of the animal in FaceBook, tagging the eminent zoologists Dr. Reza Khan and Dr. Monirul Islam. Shortly he received a reply from Monirul, who said it was a Indomalayan Pencil-tailed Tree-mouse. These animals have bodies 81-105mm long, while their tail is 105-130mm long. He further confirmed that this was the first recorded sighting of this rodent in Bangladesh.
Chayan is a freelance researcher working on the primates of Bangladesh. After receiving his Bachelors and Masters in Zoology from Jagannath University, he has been working to better understand the Bengal Slow Loris. It is one of nine primates of Bangladesh but beyond knowing its distribution – it is found mostly in the forests of Sylhet and Chittagong region – we know very little about it. He obtains his project funding from two universities abroad, and, similar to the Spoonbilled Sandpiper Project, it is an independent project not tied to any institution.
Regular readers of this column may remember Abdur Rahim as the professional eco-guide who accompanies me whenever I wander in Kalenga and Satchori forests in search of birds. If you ever go to these places, you might want to seek him out.
So what really is a tree-mouse? Chayan explained to me the differences between mice and tree-mice. Mice have five claws in each foot; tree-mice have five claws in their rear feet but four claws and a thumb in their front feet. This is an adaptation for climbing. Another difference is that the mouse's tail starts thick and grows thinner away from its body. The tree-mouse's tail is the opposite, growing slightly thicker away from its body.
How does this discovery fit into our biodiversity picture? Before this, we counted 127 mammals seen in Bangladesh. Of these, twenty-seven are rodents, which are further subdivided into ten squirrels, fifteen rats and mice and two porcupines. Now we can count one more.
In the meantime, I find myself wondering what other secrets remain hidden in our forests.
As is customary for a first record, Chayan plans to publish an account of his finding in a scientific journal. He also plans to continue his work on the Bengal Slow Loris. Longer term, he wants to earn a doctorate and become a Zoology professor and scientist.
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