Introduction to Indian Wildlife
Wildlife in India or anywhere else in the world is a very distinct place of approaching natural beings, residing in their blissful aura, and bringing forth the lineage of flora and fauna. Indian wildlife in particular is in the developing phase of accommodating large numbers of wildlife sanctuaries in India to collectively conserve the proliferating numbers of exotic and extinct species of animals. Hence, these voluntarily conservative steps taken by the central and state governments have put forth Indian Wildlife onto the world map, assuring wildlife enthusiasts across the globe to visit and witness the incredible land of unexplored and rare parts of flora and fauna. India's habitats mix varied species with different origins that are around 10 per cent of the world’s species. The major species like animals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians are spread from the foothills of the Himalayas to the shore of Kanyakumari, which includes 104 National parks and 543 wildlife sanctuaries approximately.
The major protected parks in India are Jim Corbett National Park in Uttarakhand, Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan, Gir National Park in Gujarat, Kanha, and Bandhavgarh National Park in Madhya Pradesh. Furthermore, there also exist places that are specifically dedicated to the preservation of birds and are called Bird Sanctuaries, such as Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary in Rajasthan which is visited by Siberian cranes during the winter and is known to be the second largest habitat in the world and largest bird sanctuary in India.
History of Indian Wildlife
The history of Indian Wildlife is associated with diverse species, forests, lands, events, exploitation, and protection of species and populations. History reveals how people in the past used to fear and respect nature and gradually tried to dominate it. This history is also related to the major stripping of natural vegetation over the past two centuries. Survival of wildlife is from the Vedic period(1500 BC to 500 BC) when nearly 250 species of birds also existed. The blackbuck was quite common in the reign of the Aryans along with Indian koel and house crow. It is believed that the bones of elephants, chital, jackal, hare and rhinoceros have been discovered at the sites of the Indus Valley Civilization. Elephants were employed to be mounted upon during battles. They were considered a status symbol during Harappan Civilization.
During the Mayura dynasty, attempts were made to protect forest animals such as lions, tigers and elephants. A few laws were also imposed by King Ashoka for conserving wild animals. Mughal emperors Babur and Jahangir used to maintain a journal about their regular wildlife observation. But Babur was fond of hunting and it is believed that during his life journey there were almost 28,532 animals that became his victims including swamp deer, tiger, hyena, foxes and leopards.
There exists a few events which mark the history of Indian wildlife. First, hunting was embraced and was seen as an indispensable part of every ruler’s skill range. The second event was the state-supported slaughtering of certain wild animals and the harnessing of forests for industrial and military purposes. Another event in the history of Indian wildlife was the creation of legal and governmental bodies to administer large stretches of forest. It is only during the time of Independence that a dominant group emerged with a kinder and gentler approach to nature in India but the legacy of the control system co-existed.
Conservation of wildlife is considered to be a significant step in the history of Indian Wildlife. Thus, various projects were initiated in India and are given due importance. One of the first steps toward the conservation of Indian wildlife was the banning of the hunt of several species. To conserve Indian wildlife, several forest laws were enforced in many provinces. The great Indian one-horned rhinoceros is one of the first animal species to benefit from the laws. In 1908, a large segment of grassland was set aside as a rhino reserve in Assam. Such protection was far more effective than the efforts to regulate or ban the trading of rhino horns, which continued until the end of the colonial era in India.
Indian Wildlife can majorly be indexed as endangered, vulnerable and threatened.
Species that are on the verge of extinction or whose population is on the decline are categorised as endangered species. Schedule I of the ‘Wildlife Protection Act’ covers endangered species. The act prohibits the hunting of endangered species and is focused on conserving the species under this category. Some notable endangered species include Asiatic Elephant, Asiatic Lion, Blackbear, great Indian Rhino, Kashmiri Stag, Malabar civet, etc.
1b. Vulnerable species
Species that are likely to become endangered if their existence is not protected are called vulnerable species. The list is not exhaustive but surely surprising such as Black-buck, Barasingha, Nilgiri Langur, Himalayan Musk deer, One-horned Rhino, Asiatic wild dog, etc.
Species that are capable of becoming endangered in near future come under threatened species. The International Union for Conservation of Nature treats threatened species not as a single category, but as a group of three categories, depending on the degree to which they are threatened. Less-than-threatened categories are near threatened, least concerned, and the no longer assigned category of conservation dependent. The list of species under threat includes the Asiatic lion, Gharial, Nilgiri Tahr, Great Indian bustard, etc.
The animals found in India are broad, The Royal Bengal Tiger, Asiatic Elephant, Indian Leopard, One-horned Rhinoceros, and Asiatic Lion. Other than this, the list exotic animals that are more popular around the globe are the blackbuck, white tiger, and cheetah, whereas birds found in India are pigeons, peacocks, owls, vultures, junglefowl, lapwings, parakeets and more.
Big Cats in India
Indian wildlife is famous across the globe for its abundance of Wild cat species, ranging from Bengal Tiger to Snow Leopards of Ladakh. These wild cat species are distributed across India, in different reserve facilities controlled by the Indian government, which is responsible for their habitat and well-being.
The categorization of cat species in India categorizes further into medium and small-sized cat species which are also segmented into the different lineage, surviving for a long time.
The big 5 cat species that are found Indian subcontinent are:
The Royal Bengal Tiger
Famous by the name Bengal tiger and common by the name ‘Panthera Tigris’, is the fiercest big cat of India, the Royal Bengal Tiger, found in the north-eastern, western, and southern regions of Indian forests. Bengal tigers are instinctively territorial cats and most of the time they rest in their caves, bamboo thickets or water holes in the wild. Their common hunt is sambar deer, wild boar, farm animals and spotted deer. Every female tiger can give birth to an average of 3-4 cubs and they separate from their mother after 18 months of living together, to mark their own territory.
You can spot the Bengal Tigers during the tiger safaris in India and go by location-specific places then they are found abundantly in Bandhavgarh, Tadoba, Pench, Ranthambore and Kanha National Park.
Asiatic lions are very less in number and are only found in the Indian state of Gujarat in the Gir region. Famous by the name of King of Jungle, from the tales of Mowgli, they have a distinct quality of dominancy and diplomacy in the wild. Their current population only remains around 670.
They hunt wild deer, sambhar deer, wild pigs, and other farm animals. Currently, they are facing a major threat that is genetic inbreeding that is arising due to a single population.
You can spot Asiatic Lions at only Gir National Park, Gujarat.
Leopard is the fastest mammal species on earth and dominates the kill when it comes to hunting. They go by the biological name of Panthera Pardus and are considered a very successful wild cat species of India. They are known for their agility and speed in hunting their prey and can climb any tree or mountain without any sweat.
Black Panther and Melanistic Panther are the same species but are colour variants. They have been spotted in the Nagarhole, Dandeli and Tadoba National Park.
The best places to see Indian Leopards are Satpura, Nagarhole, Pench, Tadoba, Jhalana, Bera, Panna, and Bandipur National Parks.
The species of snow Leopards are only found in the high altitudes or in the region of the Himalayas. Panthera Uncia is their biological name and is marked endangered in India. Their feature is that their skin is brighter and paler as compared to Indian Leopard, and their tail is larger in proportion to their body. Further, they cannot roar like other big cats because of their rigid hyoid bone.
The research and study on Snow Leopard have thrived over the years and have been found in high altitudes of Mongolia, China, Nepal, and Bhutan as well.
The best place to see the snow Leopard is Hemis and Ulley National Park, Ladakh.
Indo-Chinese Clouded Leopard
These are known to be the smallest in size big cats in India and have been spotted very few times in the wild. These cats have grey-cloud shape marks on their body and unusual stripes on their faces and big black spots on their tale. Compared to their small skull, they possess the biggest canine teeth in the world in the breed of cats.
The best places to visit Indo-Chinese Clouded Leopard is in the Himalayan foothills of eastern borders, Namdapha National Park, Arunachal Pradesh.
Birds in India
The Indian subcontinent is believed to have 1364 bird species as of 2021 of which 212 species are threatened globally. Whereas the Indian peafowl is the national bird of India. It would be impossible to list even the types of birds found in India because the list is indeed very long. Though, they are broadly divided into 3 categories:
It pertains to the species of birds which rarely occurs in India, but the confirmed records state less than 10 species are confirmed to be Vagrant.
The species which are born in India live in the Indian subcontinent and occasionally migrate to different states during weather changes.
It refers to the species of birds that no longer exists in India but in habitats in different countries.
Figuratively, the categorization of birds that represents the major categories is also more than 30. Some of them are:
- Ducks, geese, and swans
- Pheasants and allies
- Pigeons and doves
- Rails, crakes, and coots
These are popularly known categories of Indian birds that can be seen in many national parks and wildlife sanctuaries across the country.
Mammals in India
Mammals are defined as vertebrates with hair, mammary glands used to suckle young with milk, a diaphragm, three bones in the middle ear, and a lower jaw made up of a single pair of bones that articulates in a unique way with the skull. Mammals range in size from the 30–40 mm bumblebee bat to the 30 m blue whale—possibly the largest animal to have ever lived. Some of them are intelligent, and some possess large brains, self-awareness, and tool use. Mammals can communicate and vocalize in several ways, including the production of ultrasound, scent-marking, alarm signals, singing, and echolocation. India accommodates a large number of mammals distributed across a large number of wildlife sanctuaries. There are about 410 species of mammals known from India, which is about 8.86% of the world's species. Of these 89 species are listed as threatened in the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Animals (IUCN 2006).
The mammals that are found in India are categorized majorly into 19 categories that denote the order of the family. Some popular mammal species are:
The primates are Apes and monkeys, which hold the major percentage of Indian wildlife. Some common examples are Lion Tailed macaque, Langur, golden langur, and capped langur.
The Cetacea represents aquatic animals such as dolphins, porpoises, and whales. Some common examples are Gangetic River dolphins, sperm whales, finless porpoises, blue whales, hump-backed whales, etc.
The animals are terrestrial and aquatic but carnivores in nature fall into the Carnivora order. Examples are the Indian wolf, Tibetan wolf, red panda, Asiatic black bear, Himalayan brown bear, Indian sloth bear, leopard cat, Asiatic lion, tiger, snow leopard, etc.
This order of Animalia only includes the elephants and the example is the Asian Elephant also called Elephantidae, found in south and northeast India.
Snakes are fascinating creatures and are born with earthy hues that make them vibrant and beautiful. For many people, they are interesting creatures but for the rest, they are devious and often create a ruckus when seen on street. It is traced that snakes evolved even before the origin of mammals and reptiles were the first predators the mammals faced.
More than 3,400 species of snakes in the world have been classified with more than 25 families with a set of characteristics, such as DNA coding, scale count, anatomy, etc. Further, they have been classified into sub-family, families, genera, species, and subspecies.
Other than extensive classification snakes are basically divided into 2 categories, Venomous and Non-venomous. India has currently more than 350 species of snakes and in the duration of last few months, 4 new species have been discovered.
Due to vast diversity, the largest snake that we get in our country is the Reticulated Python which can grow more than 25 feet. While King Cobra is the longest venomous snake in the world which can grow up to 20 feet and the smallest one is the Brahminy Blind Snake with an average length of 10 cm.
Common snakes found in India
Non-venomous Snakes of India
- Rat Snake
- Indian Rock Python
- Common Indian Wolf Snake
- Checkered Keelback
- Bronze Back Tree Snake
Venomous Snakes of India
- Russell’s Viper
- Spectacled Cobra
- Common Krait
- Saw Scaled Viper
Lizards are very common reptiles in the Indian peninsula but as of their appearance and frequent association with danger, they are feared by the masses. However, this is not all there is to know about lizards. They have evolved to adapt and thrive in human-dominated environments by controlling the population of smaller animals like insects, they play a desirable role in the ecosystem.
Four Common Lizards of India:
- Indian Chameleon
- Garden Lizard
- Fan Throated Lizard
- Monitor Lizard
Geographical Classification of Wildlife
Many Indian species are descendants of species originating in Gondwana, of which India originally was a part. Mammals entered India from Asia through two zoogeographical passes on either side of the emerging Himalayas. As a result, among Indian species, only 12.6% of mammals and 4.5% of birds are endemic, compared with 45.8% of reptiles and 55.8% of amphibians. Notable endemics are the Nilgiris langur and the brown and carmine Beddome's toad of the Western Ghats. India harbours 172, or 2.9%, of IUCN-designated threatened species. India is located at the junction of three realms namely Afrotropical, Indomalaya and Paleo arctic, and therefore, has characteristic elements from each of them, spurring migration of avifauna from these regions.
Conservation of Indian Wildlife
There used to exist just 5 National parks before 1972 in India. Kaziranga National Park in Assam is one such leading example of the inputs to save rhinos. Dachigam National Park was involved in protecting hangul or Kashmir stag. Similarly, Periyar National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary in Kerala is also involved in preserving wild elephants and tigers. After the enactment of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972, the hunting or harvesting of species was forbidden. In addition to this, the government of India started several projects and programmes to conserve Indian wildlife. These projects have dual aims. One of preserving wildlife and the other to encourage ecotourism. Ecotourism is “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education” (TIES, 2015). Project Tiger is one of the most successful initiatives taken by the Government of India to protect and preserve the tiger population. Similarly, the Wildlife Conservation Society is an Indian program involved in protecting wildlife and wildlands. It conducts wildlife-based research activities and helps in building positive attitudes towards nature. WWF-India and Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) are also a few organisations that are working towards the conservation of Indian wildlife. Other conservation measures include the establishment of jungle lodges and nature camps and control of cattle grazing in tiger reserves and accumulation of research data regarding environmental changes. In addition to these, there are various NGOs (non-governmental organizations) in different states that are involved in the conservation of Indian wildlife. The need of the hour is responsible for wildlife tourism and tiger safari that promotes conservation.
Wildlife Tourism in India
The graph of wildlife tourism is ascending and fetching global recognition. In order to capture the priceless moments of some rare species, tourists from all over the world are attracted to visit our country. The funds generated from this are employed in the conservation and economic upliftment of local communities. Tourism not only focuses on our ecosystem but the existing wildlife also. According to research by conservation India, Wildlife tourism is growing at 15 per cent annually in parks of which 70 per cent of the visitors are Indian. “Ranthambore attracts the most tourism. Tadoba in Maharashtra is the best tiger reserve and not many even know about it worse overseas visitors have no clue about it. Kabini is another amazing and probably best as far as animal bird diversity is concerned but not known to many,” says Manjunath Gowda, CEO, WildTrails.
Indian Wildlife Sanctuaries
A protected area of land that is set aside specifically for the conservation of plant and animal species is called Wildlife Sanctuary. These areas are either owned privately or publicly, and they are purposefully designated by governments or nonprofit organisations. Wildlife sanctuaries offer a variety of benefits to both the environment and the local community. The important thing to note here is that a Wildlife sanctuary can also be a National Park and that is the case with maximum wildlife Sanctuary. Tourists can also enjoy safaris in these protected areas. Ranthambore Safari, Kanha Safari, Tadoba Safari, Bandhavgarh Safari, Kaziranga Safari, Sariska Safari and more.
Some Wildlife Sanctuaries of India are:
- Kaziranga Wildlife Sanctuary
- Bandhavgarh Wildlife Sanctuary
- Jim Corbett Wildlife Sanctuary
- Ranthambore Wildlife Sanctuary
- Bandipur Wildlife Sanctuary
- Hemis Wildlife Sanctuary
Importance of Indian Wildlife
There was a time when India had abundant resources in terms of animals, plants, and rare species. This was not long ago, merely a century ago when Britishers had our nation in control there was an enormous number of natural resources but thanks to the gift of imperialism, which bloomed the rise of industrialization in our country and before you know, we were proliferating faster than reaching the moon.
Indian wildlife was in a very poor condition back then, but it became clearer with the emergency protocols ganging up internationally that we need to start worrying about our wildlife resources or else it would become impossible to survive. The first strict preservation step taken by the Indian government was in 1972 when India enacted the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 and Project Tiger to safeguard crucial habitats. Further, federal protections were promulgated in the 1980s.
Indian Wildlife has been a crucial part in developing a favourable environment for the nearly extinct or endangered species which has given rise in their number in due time. One can say that India is not only home to many languages, cultures, religions, or communities but it is a vibrant land in wildlife, and you can witness every bit of different, strange, heart-warming, and incredible wildlife creatures in India.
India is one of the most biodiverse regions of the world and contains three of the world’s 36 biodiversity hotspots – the Western Ghats, the Eastern Himalayas, and the Indo-Burma hotspot. It is one of the 17 megadiverse countries. The country has 7 World Heritage Sites, 11 Biosphere Reserves in the World Network of Biosphere Reserves and 37 Ramsar sites.
Future of Indian Wildlife
India has rich and unique wildlife. The country benefits from conserving its natural wealth, which is wildlife by protecting its environment. If mainstream species become extinct, the damage to our environment will be irreversible. The sudden increase in ecotourism is beneficial for India since it has the potential to bring wealth to our country and help in upliftment. The funds we will receive from wildlife tourism can help in the conservation and economic upliftment of local communities. Responsible tourism along with tiger safari is the need of the hour. Also, stringent laws to prevent poaching and the destruction of our ecosystems are desperately needed. The protected areas are created with the purpose of conservation. Tourism should not be discouraged. Rather, activities should be restricted and monitored. Under-visited areas are more prone to poaching since the public eye is absent there. The local community around the park along with tourists can play an important role in the conservation of our National Heritage.