African Pygmy Squirrel
(Myosciurus pumilio)
The African pygmy squirrel is the smallest squirrel species in the world. With a head and body measurement of only 70mm, it seems more like a mouse than a true squirrel. It is the only species in its genus and is considered Data Deficient by the IUCN pending further information on population numbers. It was previously categorised as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and it is not known to what degree the species has been affected by the deforestation of its range.
Urgent Conservation Actions
Status surveys to ascertain popluation size and distribution.
Western central Africa, in the countries of Cameroon, Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon
Evolutionary Distinctiveness
Order: Rodentia
Family: Sciuridae
Myosciurus pumilio is the only species in its genus.
Head and body length: 60-75 mm Tail length: 50-60 mm
Weight: 16.5g
The smallest squirrel species in the world, the African pygmy squirrel seems more like mouse than squirrel. The coat is buffy green on the upperparts with olive white underparts. The ears are rounded and the edges are tipped with white. This species has only a single premolar on each side of upper jaw.
The African pygmy squirrel inhabits every type of forest within its range and is found at all heights in the trees, although it does seem to prefer lower levels. This species is diurnal (day active) with regard to its foraging and exhibits specialised foraging behaviour – it climbs along the large diameter flatter branches and pulls off small chips of outer bark. This species is reported to be solitary but tolerates other individuals and it emits a low-intensity alarm vocalisation. Litter sizes of 2 pups have been recorded.
The African pygmy squirrel inhabits central African forests and all types of forests within its geographic range. The species occurs at all heights in the forest but seems to prefer the lower levels.
The African pygmy squirrel is found in western central Africa, in the countries of Cameroon, Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. The precise distribution of this species is not known, though it is likely to be larger than currently thought.
Population Estimate
Population Trend
The African pygmy squirrel is considered Data Deficient by the IUCN pending information on population numbers. It was previously categorised as Vulnerable but it is not known to what degree the species has been affected by the deforestation of its range.
It has been noted that this species could be severely affected by deforestation due to low population numbers and its specific ecology. The IUCN regards habitat loss and degradation as the main threat affecting the African pygmy squirrel. In western Central Africa threats to the forest include unsustainable and illegal logging operations, no incentives for sustainable use, poor environmental governance, an insufficiently developed policy framework, political instability and conflict, population growth and a weak protected area network. Also there is sometimes inadequate capacity building for environmental management across this species’ distribution and an under-developed general understanding of scientific environmental issues. As a result of factors such as these 85% of Africa's tropical rainforest has now been destroyed. 70% of logging in Gabon is considered illegal. Implementation of legislation for forest protection is difficult to enforce and many planned laws never get implemented. Some concessions also allow logging to take place in protected areas. Half of the tropical forests of Cameroon have already been destroyed. 50% of logging is considered illegal, most of the large timber companies have been reported to be involved in illegal trade. The logging problems also extend to protected areas. In Equatorial Guinea 50% of logging is considered illegal. The maximum allowable annual timber production is exceeded by between 40-60% each year as companies continue to abuse their concession size. Large scale logging also takes place in the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville), with top importers of this timber including China, Portugal, France, Spain, Italy and Germany. Deforestation across its home range is therefore the dominant threat to the African pygmy squirrel, reducing available habitat for this species and countless others.
Conservation Underway
The African pygmy squirrel is not receiving any direct conservation attention, although it may benefit from the formation of protected area networks across its range of distribution. At the Johannesburg Earth Summit in 2002 Gabon announced the creation of a network of 13 National Parks. The 13 sites are classified for the conservation of Gabon's rich biodiversity. The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Zoological Society of London provide technical assistance for National Park and protected area planning and management as well as capacity building in natural resources management, tourism and scientific research institutions. WCS also assists with research and monitoring to improve natural resource management in Gabon. Equatorial Guinea has 3 National Parks. Since the country’s independence in 1968 the system of national parks and reserves established by the Spanish administration was no longer formally recognised. Under the Decree of the 31st December 1988 the President announced certain regulations with respect to wildlife, protected areas and hunting. These included the establishment of a legal basis to create protected areas. Laws passed in August 1990 established the National Committee for the Protection of the Environment, within the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Forestry. This Committee is empowered to protect natural resources. In the Central African Republic the importance and diversity of the fauna have enabled the creation 4 National Parks and several reserves. Cameroon has established 14 National Parks for the protection of its own natural heritage. These protected areas throughout the range of the African pygmy squirrel make an important contribution to the safeguarding of habitat for this species. Unfortunately, however, the designation of an area as ‘protected’ is often insufficient to prevent illegal logging and other forms of exploitation of the natural resources contained within a reserve. For a protected area to successfully function it is important that a number of other factors are in place, such as reserve monitoring, enforcement of protected area status, public education, local stakeholder cooperation and the development of alternative livelihoods for people who rely on the area economically. If the protected areas are neglected in some of these respects a situation may arise whereby the protected area network becomes a string of ineffective ‘paper parks’.
Conservation Proposed
The IUCN has highlighted the need for research into the population numbers and range of the African pygmy squirrel. Site-based maintenance and conservation have also been called for to protect this species.
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Gharaibeh B.M. and Jones C. 1996 Myosciurus pumilio. Mammalian Species 523: 1-3: 17

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