Wildlife of India
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India is home to a large variety of animals. It is a biodiversity hotspot with its various ecosystems ranging from the Himalayas in the north to the evergreen rain-forests in the south, the desert sands of the west to the marshy mangroves of the east. India, lying within the Indomalayan realm, is home to about 7.6% of mammal, 14.7% of amphibian, 6% of bird, 6.2% of reptilian, and 6.0% of flowering plant species. India's forest lands nurture about 500 species of mammals and 2000+ bird species. This richness of Indian wildlife has been celebrated since time immemorial. Four of India’s national symbols consist India’s mammals.
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 seventeen megadiverse countries. The country has seven Natural World Heritage sites, eleven Biosphere Reserves in the World Network of Biosphere Reserves and twenty six Ramsar Wetlands.
In response to decrease in the numbers of wild animals, human encroachment and poaching activities, the government of India established a system of national parks and protected areas in 1935, which was subsequently expanded. In 1972, India enacted the Wildlife Protection Act and Project Tiger to safeguard crucial habitat. Further, federal protections were promulgated in the 1980s.
Many Indian species are descendants of species originating in Gondwana, of which India originally was a part. Peninsular India's subsequent movement towards, and collision with, the Laurasian landmass set off a mass exchange of species. However, volcanism and climatic change 20 million years ago caused the extinction of many endemic Indian forms. Soon thereafter, mammals entered India from Asia through two zoogeographical passes on either side of the emerging Himalaya. As a result, among Indian species, only 12.6% of mammals and 4.5% of birds are endemic, contrasting with 45.8% of reptiles and 55.8% of amphibians Notable endemics are the Nilgiri 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, Indomalayan and Paleoarctic, and therefore, has characteristic elements from each of them, spurring migration of avifauna from these regions.
India is home to several well-known large animals, including the Indian elephant, Indian rhinoceros, Bengal tiger, Asiatic lion, Indian leopard, snow leopard, and clouded leopard.Bears include sloth bear, the Himalayan black bear, the Himalayan brown bear,and deers and antelopes include the chausinga antelope, the blackbuck, chinkara, chital, sambar (deer), Kashmir stag, and the barasinga. It is home to Bengal tiger and Indochinese tiger, Asiatic lion, Indian leopard, snow leopard, clouded leopard, various species of deer, including chital, Kashmir stag; the Indian Elephant, the Indian rhinoceros, birds including Indian peacock, great Indian hornbill, painted stork, Eurasian spoonbill.
There are about 18500 taxa of flowering plants from India. The Indian Forest Act, 1927 helped to improve the protection and security of the natural habitat. Many ecoregions, such as the shola forests, also exhibit extremely high rates of endemism; overall, 33% of Indian plant species are endemic. Flora and Vegetation of forest cover ranges from the tropical rainforest of the Andaman Islands, Western Ghats, and Northeast India to the coniferous forest of the Himalaya. Between these extremes lie the sal-dominated moist deciduous forest of eastern India; teak-dominated dry deciduous forest of central and southern India, and the babul-dominated thorn forest of the central Deccan and western Gangetic plain. Important Indian trees include the medicinal neem, widely used in rural Indian herbal remedies. Bamboo gardens are extremely common in jungles as well as villages. States like Sikkim and West Bengal have orchids. The national flower of India, the lotus flower, is common in lakes and ponds.
The diversity of fungi and their natural beauty occupy a prime place in the biological world and India has been a cradle for such organisms. Only a fraction of the total fungal wealth of India has been subjected to scientific scrutiny and mycologists have to unravel this unexplored and hidden wealth. One-third of the fungal diversity of the globe exists in India. The country has an array of 10 diverse biomes including Trans-Himalayan zone, Himalaya, Desert, Semi-Arid zone, Western Ghats, Deccan Peninsula, Gangetic Plain, North-Eastern India, Coasts and Islands where varied dominating regimes manifest. This enables the survival of manifold fungal flora in these regions which include hot spot areas like the Himalayan ranges, Western Ghats, hill stations, mangroves, sea coasts, freshwater bodies etc. Many fungi have been recorded from these regions and from the country, in general, comprising thermophiles, psychrophiles, mesophiles, aquatic forms, marine forms, plant and animal pathogens, edible fungi and beneficial fungi and so on. The number of fungi recorded in India exceeds 27,000 species, the largest biotic community after insects. The true fungi belong to the Kingdom Fungi which has four phyla, 103 orders, 484 families and 4979 genera. About 205 new genera have been described from India, of which 32% were discovered by C. V. Subramanian of the University of Madras. These features indicate a tenfold increase in the last 80 years.
Article 48 of the Constitution of India says, "The state shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country" and Article 51-A states that "it shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers, and wildlife and to have compassion for living creatures." The committee in the Indian Board for Wildlife, in their report, defines wildlife as "the entire natural uncultivated flora and fauna of the country" while the Wildlife (protection) Act 1972 defines it as "any animal, bees, butterflies, crustacea, fish, moths and aquatic or land vegetation which forms part of any habitat."
Despite the various environmental issues faced, the country still has rich and varied wildlife. Large and charismatic mammals are important for wildlife tourism in India, and several national parks and wildlife sanctuaries cater to these needs. Project Tiger, started in 1972, is a major effort to conserve the tiger and its habitats. At the turn of the 20th century, one estimate of the tiger population in India placed the figure at 40,000, yet an Indian tiger census conducted in 2008 revealed the existence of only 1,411 tigers. 2010 tiger census revealed that there are 1700 tigers left in India. As per the latest tiger census (2019), there are around 2967 tigers in India. Various pressures in the later part of the 20th century led to the progressive decline of wilderness resulting in the disturbance of viable tiger habitats. At the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) General Assembly meeting in Delhi in 1969, serious concern was voiced about the threat to several species of wildlife and the shrinkage of wilderness in India. In 1970, a national ban on tiger hunting was imposed, and in 1972 the Wildlife Protection Act came into force. The framework was then set up to formulate a project for tiger conservation with an ecological approach. However, there is not much optimism about this framework's ability to save the peacock, which is the national bird of India. George Schaller wrote about conservation of tigers in India
As of 2018-19, there are 870 protected areas including 104 National Parks, 551 Wildlife Sanctuaries, 88 Conservation Reserves and 127 Community Reserves covering a total of 1,65,088.57 km2 of geographical area which is approximately 5.02% of the country. In addition there are 50 Tiger Reserves, 18 Biosphere Reserves and 32 Elephant Reserves.
Hundreds of India's bird populations are in serious decline, according to a study spanning over 25 years.
In 2020 the Indian government created the world's first sea cucumber reserve in Lakshadweep-Dr KK Mohammed Koya Sea Cucumber Conservation Reserve, the largest marine conservation reserve - Attakoya Thangal Marine Conservation Reserve and the first protected area for marine birds in India - PM Sayeed Marine Birds Conservation Reserve.
Extinctions in recent times
The exploitation of land and forest resources by humans along with capturing and trapping for food and sport has led to the extinction of many species in India in recent times. These species include mammals such as the Asiatic cheetah, wild zebu, Indian Javan rhinoceros, and Northern Sumatran rhinoceros. While some of these large mammal species are confirmed extinct, there have been many smaller animal and plant species whose status is harder to determine. Many species have not been seen since their description. Gir forest in India has the only surviving population of Asiatic lions in the world. In the late 1960s, there were only about 180 Asiatic lions. There were 523 Asiatic lions in the Gir sanctuary in Gujarat state which in 2018 increased to more than 600.
Some bird species have gone extinct in recent times, including the pink-headed duck (Rhodonessa caryophyllacea) and the Himalayan quail (Ophrysia superciliosa). A species of warbler, Acrocephalus orinus, known earlier from a single specimen collected by Allan Octavian Hume from near Rampur in Himachal Pradesh, was rediscovered after 139 years in Thailand.
The varied and rich wildlife of India has had a profound impact on the region's popular culture. India's wildlife has been the subject of numerous tales and fables such as the Panchatantra or the Jakarta Tales.
- National animal: Bengal tiger
- National heritage animal of India: Indian elephant
- National aquatic animal: South Asian river dolphin
- National bird: Indian peacock
The Indian government has established eighteen biosphere reserves of India which protect larger areas of natural habitat and often include one or more national parks and/or preserves, along buffer zones that are open to some economic uses. Protection is granted not only to the flora and fauna of the protected region, but also to the human communities who inhabit these regions, and their ways of life.
The protected areas are:
- Achanakmar Wildlife Sanctuary
- Agasthyamala Biosphere Reserve
- Dibru-Saikhowa National Park
- Dihang-Dibang Biosphere Reserve
- Great Nicobar Biosphere Reserve
- Gulf of Mannar Marine National Park
- Kutch Desert Wildlife Sanctuary
- Khangchendzonga National Park
- Manas National Park
- Nanda Devi National Park
- Nilgiri mountains
- Nokrek National Park
- Pachmarhi Biosphere Reserve
- Simlipal National Park
- Sundarbans National Park
- Cold Desert
- Seshachalam hills
- Panna National Park
- Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve
- Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve
- Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve
- Nokrek National Park
- Pachmarhi Biosphere Reserve
- Simlipal National Park
- Sundarbans Biosphere Reserve
- Achanakmar-Amarkantak Biosphere Reserve
- Nicobar Islands
- Agasthyamala Biosphere Reserve
- Birding in Chennai
- Birdwatchers' Field Club of Bangalore
- Endemic birds of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands
- India Nature Watch
- Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education
- List of birds of India
- List of mammals of India
- List of reptiles of South Asia
- Van Vigyan Kendra (VVK)
- Wildlife of Iran
- Wildlife of South Asia
- Wildlife Population of India
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- Official website of: Government of India, Ministry of Environment & Forests
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