Sciurus anomalus (Gmelin 1778) Persian Squirrel
Hebrew name: סנאי זהוב, sna’I zahov
Global Threat: NT – Near Threatened
Regional Threat: CR (A1ac,B,D) – Critically Endangered
Distribution area: In well developed Mediterraniean woodland, only on Ketef Si’on in the western Hermon.
Historic distribution: Skeletal remains testify to the presence of the Persian squirrel on the Carmel about 12,500 years ago (Tchernov 1990). Tristram (1866) reported that the species was very common in Lebanese Mediterraniean woodland down to the area south of the Hermon, but he had never found it south of Banias (in Qumsiyeh 1996).
Typical Habitat: Well-developed Mediterraniean woodland, particularly oak Quercus calliprinos or mixed oak and conifer, with old trees where deep holes develop which the squirrels inhabit.
Threat and Disturbance Factors:
1. Hunting (particularly in the past).
2. Cutting of developed woodlands.
4. Predator population growth – beech martens and feral cats – possibly as a result of increased food availability in trash left by hikers and in army bases in the area.
Population Size: The Mt. Hermon population is concentrated in Nahal Si’on, its tributaries and the “Berith ben HaBetarim” site, over an area totaling about 15 km2. Ezov (1984) estimated that the population in the 1980s comprised some 50 pairs. Lea Gavish (pers. comm.) studied the Persian squirrels in the 1990s and estimates that the population has only a few individuals (three males in 1997).
Fluctuations in Population Size: The population is relict and has decreased drastically during the 1980s and 1990s.
Isolation between Subpopulations: The Hermon population seems to be isolated from the neighboring populations in Lebanon and Jordan.
Necessary Steps for Species Preservation:
1. Protecting the developed maqui (oak forest) in Nahal Si’on and its tributaries.
2. Regulating feral cat populations and managing the beech marten population on Mt. Hermon slopes (preventing trash disposal in the area – open garbage dumps that encourage predator population growth).
3. Preventing disturbance by visitors to the “Berith ben HaBetarim” site.
4. The establishment of a breeding nucleus with squirrels imported from Jordan/Turkey to rehabilitate the Israeli population has been suggested.