In the Indian state of Maharashtra, a peculiar but pretty creature scampers overhead in the trees. It has the quick movements of a plain, old eastern gray squirrel, but with its vivid streaks of orange, maroon and black, it’s much more splendid. It’s also big, measuring around 3 feet long.

It’s called the Malabar giant squirrel – also known as shekru– and it’s the official state animal. Their unusual coloring camouflages them as they grub for food – flowers, fruit, bark, seeds, nuts, bird eggs and insects – high up in the canopy of India’s tropical forests.

They like to swing from their dark-colored tails on branches nibbling on whatever they’ve foraged.

Besides their camouflage, they also defend themselves by flattening their bodies against branches when something – usually with wings – scares them.

Photo Credit: Sivavkm CC BY-SA 3.0

For those wanting to see these cute critters (and who doesn’t?), Maharashtra’s Bhimashankar Wildlife Sanctuary in the Western Ghats mountains is home to thousands. Which is fantastic considering that in the years before the refuge was established in the 1980s, they were on the endangered species list.

The conservation area also houses a shrine devoted to the Hindu god Shiva. It is one of 12 such shrines, or jyortirlingas, in India.

The state of Maharashtra stretches across western central India. The capital is the vibrant Mumbai, the heart of Bollywood. Visitors can tour the cave temples of nearby Elephanta Island and see the Gateway of India which dates from the time of the British Raj.

Photo Credit: Pixabay

The Bhimashankar Wildlife Sanctuary, where you can find the Malabar giant squirrel and other endemic animals of India, is accessible via the city of Pune. Pune is also the home of another must-see, the Aga Khan Palace, a memorial to Mahatma Gandhi.

Between Maharashtra’s picturesque beaches and cool, rolling mountains lies both the iconic and wild sides of India, making this region one of the continent’s premier destinations.

Plus – squirrels!