Indian Wildlife

India is a diverse country with rich wildlife. It has a mix of varied species with different origins. Around 10 per cent of the world’s species are present in India. Indian wildlife includes mammals, birds, animals, reptiles and more. They are protected in various Wildlife Sanctuaries, National parks, and Reserves. Spread from Ladakh in the Himalayas to the southern tip of Tamil Nadu, India has 104 National parks and 543 Wildlife Sanctuaries in total. Some notable 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 Parks in Madhya Pradesh. Apart from the national parks, India also has wildlife sanctuaries that serve a variety of species of fauna and flora and are also a growing tourism spot. Rajgir Wildlife Sanctuary in Bihar, Barda Wildlife Sanctuary in Gujarat, Nargu Wildlife Sanctuary in Himachal Pradesh and Chimmony Wildlife Sanctuary in Kerala are a few important wildlife sanctuaries present in India. There also exist places that are specifically dedicated to the preservation of birds and are called Bird Sanctuaries. One of the most notable sanctuaries is the bird sanctuary in Bharatpur, Rajasthan which is visited by Siberian cranes during the winter and is known to be their second largest habitat in the world. The sanctuary also accommodates a number of native water birds.


1. Classification of Indian Wildlife

India is home to a large number of animal species. The Big 5 animals of India include The Royal Bengal Tiger, Asiatic Elephant, Indian Leopard, One-Horned Rhinoceros, and Asiatic Lion. Some other world-famous animals include snow leopard, blackbuck, white tiger and cheetah. Bird species in India include pigeons, peacocks, owls, vultures, junglefowl, lapwings, parakeets and more. With around 6.2% of the total world population of Reptiles, these are also an essential part of Indian wildlife. Some significant reptiles are monitor lizards, gharials and mugger crocodiles. 


Indian Wildlife can majorly be indexed as endangered, vulnerable and threatened. 

1a.Endangered species

Species that are on the verge of extinction or their population is on the decline are categorised under 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. 

Image credits: Live More Zone

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. 


1c.Threatened species

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 Asiatic lion, Gharial, Nilgiri Tahr, Great Indian bustard, etc. 


2. History of Indian Wildlife

The history of Indian Wildlife is associated with diverse species, forests, lands, events, exploitation, protection of species and population. The 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) where 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 as 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 towards 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.  



3. Current scenario of Indian Wildlife

India is a biodiversity hotspot with various ecosystems. It offers shelter to around 7.6% of mammals, 14.7% of amphibians, 6% of birds, 6.2% of reptilians, and 6.0% of flowering plant species. India's forests accommodate about 500 species of mammals and 2000+ bird species. India is home to some popular species such as the Indian elephant, Indian rhino, Bengal tiger, Asiatic lion, Indian leopard, snow leopard, sloth bear, the Himalayan black bear, the Himalayan brown bear, barasingha, Kashmiri stag, Indian wild ass, gharial, lesser flamingo, red goral, painted stork, etc. 

There exist around 18,500 species of flowering plants in India. The Indian Forest Act, 1927, played an important role in protecting and securing the natural habitats which helped in conserving the species of flora. But still, 33% of Indian plant species are endemic. 

As of 2020-21, there are about 981 protected areas including 104 National Parks, 566 Wildlife Sanctuaries, 97 Conservation Reserves and 214 Community Reserves. In addition to these, there are 51 Tiger Reserves, 18 Biosphere Reserves and 32 Elephant Reserves.


3a. 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 the 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.


3b. 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, 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 in 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 and 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.  


4. 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.