The baby squirrel had soft grey fur, tiny heart-shaped ears, and a curved, slightly fuzzy tail. His dark eyes stared out at us, trying to guess our next move. We knew we couldn’t keep him in the plastic bag for long, without running the risk of him suffocating. So, I began looking for a small box to temporarily house him, before I found him a more comfortable home. My eyes fell on a small plastic box used for packing grapes, and I promptly slid the baby squirrel into it, quickly shutting the lid before he could react. The box already had little holes all around, so I knew the squirrel would be able to breathe comfortably. I named the baby squirrel Bushy, as I believed that one day he would be the proud owner of a very bushy tail.
Thinking that he would want to be fed, I pushed in some treats, which I know squirrels enjoy munching on. This included a grape, a piece of carrot, half a peanut and a teaspoon of boiled rice. I also placed a bottle cap filled to the brim with fresh water. However, the baby squirrel showed no interest in eating this food. In fact, he slightly sniffed them, before turning up his little nose in disgust, and huddling in a corner.
I realised that taking care of a baby squirrel was going to be much more complex than I had thought, and turned to the Internet for help. I googled ‘taking care of a baby squirrel’, and began reading a few of the resources that came up. Most of the pages were about rehabilitating foreign baby squirrels, like the red and grey squirrels found in North America and Europe. They talked about re-hydrating the baby with Pedialyte solution, keeping it warm, feeding it kitten formula, before taking it to a wildlife rehabber. Unfortunately, we don’t have these things here in India, so I began searching for alternatives.
I soon learnt that the little striped squirrels found in India are known as Indian Palm Squirrels. They are found all over South Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka). Unlike the adult Indian Palm Squirrels, Bushy was a mousy grey colour, and did not have the cream and chocolate stripes, characteristic of his species. I could not find any information on the Internet about Indian Palm Squirrels being born without stripes, and getting stripes later on in life.
When I found a photo of a new-born baby squirrel with stripes on Flickr, I seriously began to doubt whether Bushy was a squirrel or a mouse with a rather hairy tail. Bushy was much bigger and healthier than the squirrel in the above picture, but he had no stripes.
As if he had heard my thoughts, Bushy let out a ear-piercing squirrel yell, seemingly to tell me that he was indeed a squirrel. I switched on a bright light, and on closer observation noticed faint white lines running across his back. That’s when my long wait for Bushy’s stripes began.