I had never heard of the Japanese giant flying squirrel before I went to Picchio Wildlife Research Center in Japan. But when I heard about them, I immediately looked up some pictures and of course...... they are just as cute as everything in Japan.
The Japanese flying squirrel is one of the biggest (not THE biggest though) flying squirrels in the world and is native only to Japan. Therefore when you visit Japan and are looking for some wildlife to spot, this is definitely one of the animals you should try to find! They occur in Honshu, Kyushi and Shikoku, so quite a large area, and next to that they mostly live in the forest. Conditions that make it really hard to find one by yourself. So what to do? Well, like I mentioned in one of my latest blogs, I went to Picchio Wildlife Research Center and was able to go on one of their amazing flying squirrel tours and it was... AWESOME.
I don't want to spoil too much for you, so I won't mention everything, but I will tell you a little bit about how it was so you know what to expect.
The tours start in the afternoon with an amazingly fun and interactive lecture about the giant flying squirrel. It's truely amazing with how much enthusiasm the guide can talk about these animals, and as he admits himself, he's very passionate. After this lecture it's time to go out. Picchio has helped to accommodate some of the squirrels in the inhabited areas through putting up nest boxes. In this way the squirrels have a place to stay even in areas where many trees were cut down. The staff keeps track of where the animals go, so they know exactly which nest box to visit, and, due to their experience to know quite well when the squirrels fly out to look for food. Therefore the success rate of seeing a flying squirrel when going on a tour with Picchio is quite high.
So after the lecture you go out with the group to look for some flying squirrels. Sometimes they are really close, sometimes a bit further away, but it's always a nice walk in that area anyway :). When you arrive at one of the locations where a squirrel is, the thing you do is wait. However, you get binoculars from the staff, so you will be able to check the nest to see if they are coming out. Also, there is another little surprise so that even if it takes long for them to come out, you can see them in the mean time. Then, when they suddenly come out, you immediately put away the binoculars so you don't miss any of the action. The squirrel looks around, climbs up a tree and then.. IT FLIES! So cool :D sometimes you even get the chance to see it fly twice, or even to see two of them (rarely happens I think). But it's really amazing. They are so big, cute, fluffy and cool... I have done the tour twice and enjoyed it so much both times. I would recommend it to everyone. It's also great for kids, really exciting and the lecture is entertaining for people of all ages. However, don't expect to take some amazing pictures (I was kind of hoping to take some haha, what was I thinking), since they use a red flashlight and camera flash is not allowed so that the animals aren't disturbed. This was my best picture:
So, I can say it has been one of the cooles wildlife encounters in Japan so far (in the list of suddenly seeing a big kamoshika walking slowly in the woods, seeing the onsen monkeys, and seeing some snakes here and there). The tour costs about 3300 yen for adults and 2500 yen for children (however, check the website for current prices. The money is well spent since Picchio has an amazing bear conservation project (without them the bears in the area wouldn't have survived) and the staff work day and night to make their conservation work worthwile.
I would love to hear your experience with wildlife in Japan, or tips and recommendations if you have some. Please tell me about it in the comments! And if you have any questions (also about the other animal encounters) don't hesitate to ask!