They may look cute but behind those puffed-up cheeks lies a problem waiting to happen.

Thought you spotted a squirrel in your local park?

Well, you wouldn’t be wrong as a recent study in the local natural history journal Tribulus shows that these little guys may be overstaying their welcome in the UAE.

Why? They could be a threat to the local flora and fauna. 

Native to South Asia and Iran, the five-striped palm squirrel was first spotted on UAE soil in 2009 in Ras Al Khaimah.

Since then, their population has increased dramatically, now spanning almost the whole of the UAE from Dubai and Abu Dhabi, all the way to Dibba.

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The study found that the animals were probably introduced to the region as pets, however, they have since been released into the wild and could be potentially problematic to local wildlife.

They have become an “extreme threat” in Australia where they were previously introduced, according to the National Pest Committee, as well as in their native India where they have created problems by eating fruit crops and birds’ eggs.


Authors of the study, Dr Jacky Judas and Peter Hellyer, said: “Cute as they may be, they clearly have the potential to become pests, as they have done in Australia”.

The rise of the squirrel’s population can be attributed to their adaptive capabilities, and their ability to live in all kinds of climates from high altitude mountains to urban backyards.

In the study, Dr Judas said the damage done by the spread of a non-native species can be difficult to reverse.

“Given the apparent recent and fast spread of the species in the UAE, it is likely the population will continue to grow.”

The authors recommended monitoring the squirrel population in terms of their numbers, distribution and diet to minimize and control the potential damage they could cause the local environment.

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Words: Alexander Briggs. Image: Getty