Notes on Fauna and Flora
Which are Big Cats?
Taxonomically, Big Cats are members of Felidae family represented by three genera viz. Panthera (included Lion, Tiger, Jaguar, Leopard and Snow Leopard), Acinonx (includes Cheetah) and Puma (includes Cougar).
Clouded Leopard (Neofelis nebulosa ) is not a big cat but is considered to be an evolutionary link between small and big cats.
Big Cats Found in India
Four big cat species are found in India in wild viz. Gir Lion, Bengal tiger, Indian leopard, Snow leopard. Further, clouded leopard is also found in India. The Big Cats that are not found in their natural habitats in India are Jaguar and Cheetah. Cheetah got extinct as back as 1940s.
Only cat that lives in group
Lions are the only cats that live in groups, called prides.Prides are family units that may include up to three males, a dozen or so females, and their young.
Last habitant of Asiatic Lion
The last surviving population of the Asiatic lions occupies a compact tract of dry deciduous forest and open grassy scrublands in south-western part of Saurashtra region in Gujarat and are found in Gir forests and thorny thickets.
Major difference between Asiatic Lion and African Lions
The Asiatic lions have belly fold and distinctive tuft of hair on elbow which are absent in their African counterparts.
Clouded Leopard in India
Clouded Leopard is widely found in Himalayan Foothills in India, Nepal and Bhutan along with some other countries. It is considered to be most talented climbers among the cats, it can climb upside down and hang from branches with its hind feet.
Dears and Antelopes
Similarities and differences between Deer and Antelopes
Taxonomically, both deer and antelopes belong to same order called Artiodactyla or Even-toed ungulates. In the even-toed animals, the weight of the body of the animal is borne by 3rd and 4th toe of the forefeet. Most of the four-footed animals belong to this order. Common examples are cows, goats, sheets, Buffaloes, Pigs, Camels, deers, antelopes etc.
In the Odd Toed animals, the weight of the body is borne by the third toe only. Common example of such animals is Horse.
Going down the taxonomical hierarchy, Deer belongs to family Cervidae (family of deers), while Antelopes or Gazelle belong to family Bovidae (family of cattle, sheep, water buffalo, and bison).
While the male deer (and female reindeer) grow and shed new antlers each year Antelope is permanently horned. Antelopes also have a white streak down each side of the face and a dusky patch above the nose.
Common Examples of two families:
Common animals of these two families are as follows:
- Deer Family: All kinds of deers including pudú and chital and except musk deer and mouse deer.
- Antelopes: Gazelles, Blackbucks, Hangul, Chikkara, Nilgai, Tibetan Antelope (Chiru) etc.
The near threatened blackbuck is found in Central – Western India (Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Punjab, Haryana, Maharashtra, and Odisha) and Southern India (Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu). In Andhra Pradesh, it is the state animal.
It is the only living species of the genus Antilope. The horns of the blackbuck are ringed with one to four spiral turns and the female is usually hornless.
The Bishnoi community of Rajasthan is known worldwide for their conservation efforts to Blackbuck and Chinkara. A very effective conservation plan for Black bucks has been taken at IIT Madras in Chennai. It’s a flagship scheme at IIT-M campus. Black Buck is also the title of the monthly newsletter of Madras Natural Society.
Sangai is an endangered brow-antlered deer found in its natural habitat only at Keibul Lamjao National Park, Loktak Lake, Manipur. It is the state animal of Manipur. It is one of the critically endangered species of deers in India.
Chinkara or Indian Gazelle
This is the smallest Asiatic antelope. They can go without water for long periods and can even get sufficient fluids from plants and dew drops
Tibetan antelope of Chiru (Pantolops hodgsonii) is endemic to the Tibetan Plateau, this antelope is found mainly in Chinese regions although some individuals migrate to Ladakh in India.
The Shahtoosh Threat
Chiru is well known for possessing the finest and warmest wool (Shahtoosh) in the animal kingdom. This adaptation provides warmth in the harsh climate of the Tibetan plateau, but has contributed greatly to this species’ decline. The principal cause of this decline is to supply the ‘shahtoosh’ trade; the production of shawls made from the fine, warm wool of this species. Shahtoosh stands for ‘king of wools’ in Persian and became a sought-after fabric in the fashion capitals of the world towards the end of the 20th Century. Up to five antelope are needed to produce a single shawl, which is quite costly in international markets. Until 2002, shahtoosh shawls were legally produced in the states of Jammu and Kashmir in India but a vital ban on manufacture has now been introduced.
Protection of Chiru
To enhance protection of Chiru, its prime habitats have been declared as Wildlife Sanctuaries viz. Karakorma Wildlife Sanctuary and Changthang Cold Desert Wildlife Sanctuary. Jammu & Kashmir Government has its own wildlife Protection act of 1978. Chiru is in list I of that act and it is also protected by the Indian wildlife act. Thus it one of the few species which are protected by the two acts.
The Barasingha (Rucervus duvaucelii ), also called swamp deer is an endangered deer species currently found in isolated localities in northern and central India, and south-western Nepal. It has already got extinct in Pakistan and Bangladesh.
The most striking feature of a Barasingha is its antlers, with 10 to 14 times on a mature stag, though some have been known to have up to 20. Barasingha used to inhabit the basins of the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra Rivers, as well as central
India as far as the Godavari River. Today, Barasingha have disappeared entirely from the western part of their range. In 1964, the total population in India was estimated at 3000 to 4000 individuals.In north-eastern India, the surviving animals are found in Assam.
Tibetan Gazelle / Goa
The Tibetan gazelle (Procapra picticaudata) is a small and slender gazelle with a compact body and long, thin limbs. Male Tibetan gazelles have slender, ridged horns that are relatively straight with just a slight arch.
The Tibetan gazelle is native to China and India. Although over 99 percent of its range lies in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau of China, populations do also occur in small areas of India neighbouring the plateau
The population of the Tibetan gazelle in the region of Ladakh in India is particularly at risk. Severely reduced by hunting in the past, it is continuing to decline due to intensive livestock grazing, and may also face threats from feral dogs and from diseases transmitted by livestock.
The Tibetan gazelle population in Ladakh may now number only around 50 individuals in an area of just 100 square kilometres, while populations in some other parts of India have recently become extinct.
Mouse Deer (Tragulus meminna)
Mouse Deers are found in India, Sri Lanka and perhaps Nepal, and have pale-spotted or -striped upper parts unlike the other Asian members of the family. All species in the family lack horns, but both genders have elongated canine teeth. It is basically a forest species, being found commonly in all forest types within the dry zone, and also in coconut plantations and home garden.
Musk Deer (Moschus moschiferus)
Musk deer are responsible for the production of musk, a strong-smelling substance that is one of the most expensive animal products in the world. The male musk deer does not possess antlers, but instead has two prominent, tusk-like canine teeth. Lichen forms an important part of the Siberian musk deer’s diet. The musk deer is found in the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan, northern and western China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Republic of Korea, and Mongolia.
The main threat to the musk deer comes from being hunted for the musk trade, because it has been a highly valued ingredient in the production of medicines and perfumes.
Musk deer in India
The species of musk deer found in India is Moschus leucogaster, commonly known as White-bellied musk deer
The four-horned antelope or Chousingha, is a species of small antelope found in open forest in India and Nepal. It is the only species currently classified in the genus Tetracerus. Their range extends south of the Gangetic plains down to the state of Tamil Nadu, and east as far as Odisha. They also occur in the Gir Forest National Park of western India. Living in a densely populated part of the world, the four-horned antelope is threatened by loss of its natural habitat to agricultural land. In addition, the unusual four-horned skull has been a popular target for trophy hunters. Only around 10,000 four-horned antelope are estimated to remain alive in the wild. The species is listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN due to habitat loss.
Hangul or Kashmir Stag is the only surviving race of the Red Deer and is found only in India’s Jammu & Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh. In J & K, its state animal. The last individuals of these animals are found in Dachigam National Park in Jammu & Kashmir.
They were threatened, due to habitat destruction, over-grazing by domestic livestock, and poaching. The Government of India is running a Species Recovery Plan for Hangul since 2009.
Ant Eaters (Pangolins)
Pangolins are a highly endangered species and they are hunted for their scales. Though, the use its scales for medical or other purposes is banned internationally, yet they are used illegally to treat arthritis and stomach ailments in countries like China and Thailand.
The Indian pangolin is a mammal found in the tropical regions of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal. It is an scaled insectivore that feeds on ants and termites. It can curl itself into a ball as a form of self-defence against predators such as the tiger.
A pangolin’s tongue is extremely elongated. Large pangolins can extend their tongues up to 40 centimetres with a diameter of 0.5 centimetres. The nocturnal animal uses its sense of smell while digging to reach nests or mounds and also when foraging for food. The lifespan of the ant-eaters is about 12 years.
Currently, the Indian pangolin is listed as near-threatened by IUCN. This species is included in Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972.
Chinese Pangolin is also found in several parts of India and other countries. It is also an at eater, classified as endangered by the IUCN. It is highly specialised in feeding solely on ants and termites.
Sea Cow / Dugong
Dugong or Sea Cow is a sea-grass eating mammal which is found in waters of as many as 37 countries. It is now on verge of extinction, because it has been hunted for meat and oil. In India also, its meat is considered to be aphrodisiac.
Maximum Population of Dugong is found in Red Sea, followed by the Persian Gulf.
Largest Dugong was as long as 13.5 ft and was found in Gulf of Katch in India. In India, they are found in Gulf of Kutch, the only population remaining in western India and Gulf of Mannar. The Gulf of Mannar Biosphere (GoMB) has the largest population of dugongs in India. They are also found near the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
With fewer than 200 dugongs (commonly known as sea cow) in its waters, India is strongly encouraging its neighbours in South Asia to sign the Dugong United Nations Environment Programme/Convention of Migratory Species (UNEP/CMS) MoU as early as possible.
Currently classified as vulnerable to extinction under the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the dugongs are vulnerable to human-related influences due to their life history and dependence on sea grasses that are restricted to coastal habitats under increased pressure from human activities.
Reasons for the decline in population are: sea grass habitat loss and degradation, gill netting, chemical pollutants, indigenous use and hunting.
Ganges River Dolphin
Indian Government has notified the Ganges River Dolphin (Platanista gangetica gangetica) as India’s National Aquatic Animal. It is also known as Susu because of the sound it produces when breathing.
Population and Distribution
The Total population of Ganges River Dolphin is estimated to be around 2000 and they inhabit the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna and Karnaphuli-Sangu river systems of Nepal, India and Bangladesh.
These dolphins are found in Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal (7 states ) and ideal habitats are in the Ganga, Chambal, Ghaghra, Gandak, Sone, Kosi, the Brahmaputra and Kulsi rivers.
Ganges River Dolphin is placed under “Endangered Category” in the IUCN Red List. It lives in one of the world’s most densely populated areas, and is threatened by removal of river water and siltation arising from deforestation, pollution and entanglement in fisheries nets. They have been poached over for their oil. The habitat degradation due to declining flow, heavy siltation and construction of barrages causing physical barrier for this migratory species is also one of the reasons behind decline of their numbers.
India’s National Aquatic Animal
The decision to declare the Ganges river dolphin India’s national aquatic animal was taken Oct 5 2009 during the first meeting of the newly-constituted National Ganga River Basin Authority.
India’s First Dolphin Community Reserve
In October 2015, the West Bengal government decided to establish India’s first Dolphin Community Reserve in the state at Hooghly River between Malda and Sundarbans.
Other River Dolphins
There are only four true freshwater river dolphins found around the world viz. Ganges River Dolphin, Indus River Dolphin, Amazon River Dolphin and Yagtze River Dolphins. Further, the Irrawady river dolphins can survive in both fresh and marine waters.
Indus River Dolphin (Platanista minor minor) is found in Indus river in Pakistan and also in Beas and Sutlej rivers in India. Both Ganges River Dolphin and Indus river Dolphin are now taxonomically considered one species since 1998.
The Amazon River Dolphins are is found in plenty number in Amazon river. The Yangtze river dolphins have not been seen in last one decade and it is believed that they have gone extinct. The Irrawady river dolphins, which can survive both in fresh water and marine water are found in Myanmar, Indonesia and the Mekong river delta in south-east Asia. Some of the Irrawady River Dolphins are also found in Bangladesh and India’s Chilka Lake in Odisha.
Himalayan Ibex or Capra sibirica hemalayanus is found in the mountain ranges of central and northeastern Afghanistan, China and North India at altitudes of 500-6,700 meters. They are adapted to rocky terrain and open alpine meadows and crags, seeking out lower elevations during the winter.
Their diet consists of alpine grasses and herbs, and it feeds in early morning and evenings.
In India, they are found in Jammu and Kashmir – Kishtwar and Hemis National Parks.
Poaching also occurs in some areas by military personnel, road maintenance workers, and others, especially in areas accessible by vehicle.
The Himalayan tahr is a relative of the wild goat and is specially adapted to life on the rugged mountain slopes of the Himalayas, extending from the montane to alpine zones. Tahrs are predominantly grazers, feeding on grasses and herbs, but they do browse the leaves of shrubs particularly when pastures are snow-covered.
In its native range, the Himalayan tahr is threatened by habitat loss as people exploit resources (e.g. medicinal plants) in more marginal areas and military conflicts in northern India, which has also contributed to the tahr’s decline.
There are plans to extend the Great Himalayan National Park’s range and establish the Srikhand National Park as a reserve for tahr.
Nilgiri Tahr (Hemitragus hylocrius)
Nilgiri Tahr (Nilgiritragus hylocrius) or Nilgiri Ibex is a stocky goat endemic to the Nilgiri Hills and the southern portion of the Western Ghats in the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Nilgiri Tahr is the state animal of Tamil Nadu.
The global population of Nilgiri Tahr is estimated to be between 2,000 and 2,500 individuals and shows a decreasing trend. Currently they are found in Kerala and Tamil Nadu only at high elevations on cliffs, grass-covered hills, and open terrain in the Western Ghats. Largest population of Nilgiri Tahr is found within the Eravikulam National Park, Munnar, Kerala.
IUCN has put them in endangered species. Principal threats are habitat loss due to domestic livestock and spread of invasive plants and poaching. The population of these animals is small and isolated, making them vulnerable to local extinction. The species faces competition from domestic livestock, according to the IUCN.
Present distribution of the Nilgiri tahr is limited to approximately 5 per cent of the Western Ghats in southern India, in In the beginning of this century, the range probably extended northward at least to the Brahmagiri hills of southern Karnataka.
Markhor (Capra falconeri)
The markhor is a skilled, nimble climber, and will often be seen perched on precipitous rock faces, away from the threat of predators, such as snow leopards, wolves and lynxes.
The markhor is found in the mountains of central Asia, with populations scattered through north eastern Afghanistan, northern India and Pakistan. It happens to be the National Animal of Pakistan.
They may be found in a range of environments including steep gorges, rocky areas, scrub forest and grassy meadows.
Markhor has been classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List. The main cause of the precipitous decline has been excessive hunting, both for meat and for its impressive horns, which are also used for traditional medicine in the East Asian market.
Kiang / Tibetan Wild Ass
The Kiang or Tibetan Wild Ass is the largest of the all African and Asiatic wild asses.
Kiang is found in China, India, Nepal and Pakistan. Outside China, most of the kiang populations are found in Ladakh and Sikkim, India. Its coat is reddish in summer to dark brown in winter with almost white under parts.
Kiang is considered closer to a horse than ass due to its short ears, large tail tuft and broad hooves.
Like all wild asses, Kiangs have short upright mane and a dark stripe along the back extending from nape to tail. The habitat of the Kiang extends from Tibet, some regions in China to east Ladakh and north Sikkim in India. Kiang is an agile animal and can run long distances at a speed of more than 50kms per hour. Kiangs live in herds and feed upon sparsely growing sturdy grasses.
It is a species of ‘Least Concern’ on the IUCN red list of threatened animals. The animal was also harvested for meat in India in the past, but presently no one consumes it. Many pastoralists claim that the population of kiang has exploded as a result of reduced hunting in the last few decades.
Indian Wild Ass
The Indian Wild Ass (Equus hemionus khur), also called Ghor Khar or Ghud Khur is found predominantly in the Little Rann of Kutch and its surrounding areas in Gujarat. It is also found in southern Pakistan, Afghanistan, and south-eastern Iran. Saline deserts (Rann), arid grasslands and shrub lands are its preferred environment.
It is one of the fastest Indian animals. The coat of the animal is usually sandy and may vary from reddish grey, fawn, to pale chestnut. It possesses an erect, dark mane which runs from the back of the head and along the neck followed by a dark brown stripes running along the back, to the root of the tail. It feeds on grass, leaves and fruits of plant, crop and saline vegetation.
- Wild asses graze between dawn and dusk. The animal feeds on grass, leaves and fruits of plant, crop, Prosopis pods, and saline vegetation.
- They live either solitarily, or in small groups of twos and threes while family herds remain large.
Threats and Conservation Status
In August 2015, the IUCN Red List has moved the Indian wild ass from the ‘vulnerable’ to ‘endangered’ category, indicating the need for heightened protection measures.
Indian Wild Ass Sanctuary located in the Little Rann of Kutch is the largest wildlife sanctuary in India.
A few years back, the Gujarat Ecological Education and Research Foundation (GEER) report had recommended that the Thar desert in Rajasthan should be developed as an alternative site for reestablishing the Indian wild ass by reintroduction a few of them.
Lion-tailed Macaque (Macaca silenus)
Lion-tailed macaque (Macaca silenus) also known as Wanderloo is one of the smallest and most endangered of the macaque species. Lion-tailed Macaque is the only Indian macaque with a black coloured coat.
Lion Tailed Macaque is endemic to Western Ghats and is found only in evergreen broadleaf monsoon forest in Western Ghats states of Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
These macaques spend the majority of their time in the trees, huddling together to sleep at night high up in the forest canopy. The mainstay of the lion-tailed macaque diet is fruit, although they will also forage for seeds, young leaves, flowers, buds and even fungi.
The lion-tailed macaque ranks among the rarest and most threatened primates, listed as endangered in IUCN red list. The main threat is the destruction of their forest home. Only 1% of the original habitat remains today due to widespread deforestation for timber, cultivation of tea, coffee, teak and cinchona, construction of water reservoirs for irrigation and power generation, and human settlements to support such activities.
Another reason that becomes threat to them is the slow reproduction cycle of Lion-tailed Macaques.
A female macaque gives birth only once in three years. Further not all but only dominant females give birth. The low birth rate and high age at first birth, gives little chance for their population to bounce back.
The Nilgiri langur is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List and it is endemic to Western Ghats. It has a glossy, dark brown coat and long, thick golden to brown fur on the head. It inhabits tropical wet evergreen, semi-evergreen and riparian forests as well as teak plantations, at altitudes of between 300 – 2,000 m above sea level.
This langur species form groups with one male and up to 23 females and young, who move through the forest eating the leaves of 102 plant species as well as some of their fruit, flowers and seeds.
Gee’s Golden Langur
Gee’s golden langur, or simply golden langur, is found in western Assam and the Black Mountains of Bhutan.
It is one of the most endangered primate species of India. Long considered sacred by many Himalayan people, the golden langur was first brought to the attention of science by the naturalist E.
- Gee in the 1950s. In 1988, two captive groups of golden langurs were released into two protected areas of the western region of the state of Tripura, India. As of 2000, one of these groups, consisting of six (and possibly eight) individuals in the Sepahijala Wildlife Sanctuary, had survived. Golden langurs are currently considered to be an endangered species in India. Presently, their population is around 10,000 only.
Hoolock gibbons are the only apes found in India. They are found in all seven states of northeast India, Eastern Bangladesh and South-West China. There are two species of Hoolock Gibbons viz. Western Hoolock Gibbon (Hoolock hoolock) and Eastern Hoolock Gibbon (Hoolock leuconedys) and both species are found in India.
Other Important Mammals
Western Red Panda is found in Nepal, Assam, Sikkim and Bhutan states of India. Red pandas are one of the few animals whose diet is composed almost entirely on bamboo.
Malabar Civet (Viverra megaspila)
Critically Endangered Malabar Civet is endemic to the Western Ghats of India. It is listed as Critically Endangered by IUCN
Salim Ali’s fruit bat (Latidens salimalii)
Critically Endangered Salim Ali’s fruit bat is one of the world’s rarest bats and is the only species in the genus Latidens. It is found to Western Ghats.
Under the Indian Wildlife Protection Act all species of fruit bat are classified as pests and it is therefore legal to persecute them outside of protected reserve.
Pygmy hog is the smallest of all the pig family. These small hogs have relatively short limbs.
It is critically endangered animal and is currently found only in Indian state of Assam. The Pygmy Hog Research and Breeding Centre is located in Basistha, Assam, which along with Assam State Zoo is endeavouring captive breeding of this hog.
Sloth Bear (Melursus ursinus)
Sloth bears are found in a wide variety of habitats on the subcontinent, from grasslands and thorn scrub to evergreen forest.
Small Travencore Flying Squirrel (Petinomys fuscocapillus)
Listed as Near Threatened because its extent of occurrence is probably approximately 30,000 km², and the extent and quality of its habitat are probably declining, and it occurs as severely fragmented populations.
This species is restricted to the Western Ghats of southern India and to the island of Sri Lanka.
It is an arboreal and nocturnal species. It occurs in evergreen, deciduous and montane forests. Travancore flying squirrels were thought to be extinct but rediscovered in 1989 after a gap of 100 years.
Namdapha flying squirrel
Critically endangered Namdhapa Flyng Squirrel is endemic to North East India.
The wild yak was domesticated about 2,000 years ago. Unfortunately, the number of wild yak is decreasing very quickly, due to uncontrolled hunting, and by their pastures being taken over by domestic yak. There are probably only a few hundred wild yak, and they have been categorized by the IUCN as endangered. Wild yak are now officially protected in China. In India, a few wild yaks are found in Chang Chemmo Valley of Ladakh.
The Tibetan wolf is found in Tibet and Ladakh and there it is known as chánkú or shanko.
Desert Lynx / Caracal
Caracal or Desert Lynx is a wild cat widely distributed across Africa, Central Asia and southwest Asia into India. Caracals can survive without drinking for a long period—the water demand is satisfied with the body fluids of prey. They have been used in India for the purpose of hunting and blood sports.
The grizzled giant squirrel (Ratufa macroura) is found in Sri Lanka and Western Ghats of southern India. It is highly territorial and is very vocal upon encountering an intruder. It is usually found alone or occasionally in pairs.
Gharial (Gavialis gangeticus)
As per Indian mythology, Gharial is the vahana of Goddess Ganga and Varuna, the god of water. It is a river dwelling eater, but usually harmless to humans.
It lives in deep fast-flowing rivers. The bulbous ‘ghara’ on the tip of the snout of mature males just above the nostrils, helps in creating a snorting hiss to advertise the animal’s presence, and dominance.
Gharials are endemic to the Indian sub-continent. Once found abundantly in all the major river systems of South Asia, the Gharial is now extinct in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma and Bhutan. Nepal has only a remnant breeding population.
In India too, the major breeding populations are con_ned to two rivers only G, irwa and the Chambal. The two rivers run along the borders of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. A few nonbreeding populations exist in small pockets in other rivers in India.
Gharial is listed as ‘Critically Endangered’ in the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species. Between 2007-2008, over 100 Gharials in the Chambal perished in a mystery die-off attributed to a nephrotoxin possibly originating from contaminated _sh in the Yamuna.
Loggerhead, Hawksbill and Leatherback are common names of the Turtles found in India. Turtles are placed in reptiles. The five species are Green turtle (Chelonia mydas), Loggerhead (Caretta caretta), Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea), Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) and Leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea). Leatherback is Critically Endangered.
Olive Ridley Turtles
In November 2015, the Odisha Government has imposed seven-month ban till May, 2016 on fishing along the Puri coast in order to protect the endangered Olive Ridley turtles.
Olive Ridley Turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) are found in warm and tropical waters, primarily in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. They are listed as “Vulnerable” in the IUCN Red List. In India, they have been included in Schedule-I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
Astaranga coast and Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary, both in Odisha, are home to Olive Ridley Turtles. The coastal waters of Gahirmatha have been designated as a Marine Sanctuary, and thus, its only Marine sanctuary of Odisha. This sanctuary boasts of possessing the world’s largest known rookery of Olive Ridley sea turtles.
The Odisha state government is taking steps for patrolling and other measures for their protection.
These turtles are best known for their behavior ofs ynchronized nesting in mass numbers, termed arribadas. The winter seasons is the mating and breeding season of these turtles. Due to thus, the Odisha Government imposes a ban on fishing activities inside the Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary as well as 20 kms off the shore from November to May under the state laws such as Orissa Marine Fishing Regulation Act, 1982 and Orissa Marine Fishing Rules, 1983.
But since this is a vast area, there is a heavy fishing pressure from local vessels as well as vessels from the neighbouring states like West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh and vessels from the neighbouring countries like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Thailand etc. The state government tries to deal with them
to extent possible with available manpower and resources. Despite a ban continual illegal fishing using mechanized trawlers on Astaranga coast and Gahirmatha beaches, is posing serious threat to the endangered Olive Ridley turtles.
Kachuga dhonkoga is the Three-striped Roofed Turtle, also known as Batagur dhongoka and is a species of turtle mostly found in Nepal and North East India. This turtle has been classified in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. It is under threat because of the consumption for subsistence by the local population, degradation of the riverine habitat and disturbance of the breeding sites.
Captive Breeding Programme for Kachuga Dhonkoga
In order to augment the population of species, head start and captive breeding programmes have been taken up at the following places:
- Kukrail Centre Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh
- Deori Crocodile and Turtle Rearing Centre, Madhya Pradesh
- Freshwater Turtle Conservation and Education Centre in National Chambal Sanctuary, Garhaita, Itawah, Uttar Pradesh.
Great Indian Bustard
The Great Indian Bustard (Ardeotisnigriceps) was once widely spotted across 11 Indian states, but now only less than 250 birds are left all across India. The destruction of the habitat is a primary threat to the bird’s endurance. This critically endangered bird is endemic to the Indian subcontinent. The
Great Indian Bustard lives in short-grass plains and deserts in large arid landscapes.
Key reasons for the decrease in count of the Great Indian Bustard are enumerated below:
- Habitat destruction- The change of land use from grassland to farmland, thus shrinking the bird’s habitat.
- Degradation and disturbance in existing grassland habitat
- Lack of importance for natural grassland conservation in policy, law and PA network due to incorrect perception on ecological value vis-a-vis forests
- Lack of protection for many ‘lekking’ and nesting sites
- Lack of cooperation between different departments/stakeholders in GIB habitats
- Lack of awareness and support from local communities
- Livestock overgrazing and feral dogs
- Disturbance by photographers — there is now plenty anecdotal evidence to demonstrate that photography of the species causes substantial disturbance
The Great Indian Bustard is now confined to only eight pockets in 6 Indian states — Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. The largest population (~50%) can be found in Jaisalmer, Barmer, and Bikaner districts of Rajasthan. Great Indian Bustard is the State Bird of Rajasthan.
The Jerdon’s Courser (Rhinoptilus bitorquatus) is a nocturnal bird endemic to Andhra Pradesh. It is a flagship species for the extremely threatened scrub jungle. The species was considered to be extinct until it was rediscovered in 1986 and the area of rediscovery was subsequently declared as the Sri Lankamaleswara Wildlife Sanctuary.
The Forest Owlet (Heteroglaux blewitti) had been lost for more than a century. When not sighted for decades, posters were printed and Salim Ali, the premier ornithologist of India made a public appeal to look for the bird. After 113 long years, the owlet was rediscovered in 1997 and reappeared on the list of Indian birds. It is thinly distributed in South Madhya Pradesh, in north-west Maharashtra and north-central Maharashtra.
The White-bellied Heron (Ardea insignis) is an extremely rare bird found in five or six sites in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, one or two sites in Bhutan, and a few in Myanmar. It is inherently rare, and populations have never been known to be very high.
The Himalayan Quail (Ophrysia superciliosa) is presumed to be extinct since no reliable records of sightings of this species exist after 1876.
Intensive surveys are required as this species is hard to detect due to its reluctance to fly and its preference for dense grass habitats. Possible sighting of this species was reported in Nainital in 2003.
Sociable Lapwing (Vanellus gregarious) is a winter migrant to India. This species has suffered a sudden and rapid population decline due to which it has been listed as critically endangered. It is found in fallow fields and scrub desert and is native to Central Asia, South Asia some countries in Middle East. In India, distribution is restricted to the north and north-west of the country.
Spoon Billed Sandpiper
Spoon Billed Sandpiper (Eurynorhynchus pygmeus) requires highly specialized breeding habitat, a constraint that has always kept its population scarce. India is home to some of the last existing wintering grounds of this species (estimated at only 150-320 breeding pairs worldwide).
Siberian Crane (Grus leucogeranus) is a large, strikingly majestic migratory bird that breeds and winters in wetlands. They are known to winter at Keoladeo National Park, Rajasthan. However the last documented sighting of the bird was in 2002.
- Narcondam hornbill is an IUCN red list species of hornbill in the Bucerotidae family endemic to the Indian island of Narcondam in the Andaman’s. It is a small hornbill at 66 cm long and males and females differ in their plumage features, the male has a rufous head and neck, black body and upper parts glossed with green but females are all black.
- The entire population is restricted to the single island of Narcondam in the Andaman Island chain at a height of about 2300 feet above sea level and is largely devoid of human presence.
- The island is often hit by cyclonic storms in the Bay of Bengal and human activities have created threats to the species in contemporary times. Several Conservationists and groups protested to take care of the species owing to small area of island and much exposure to the species in tropical forests.
Biogeographic Regions of India
India is a megadiverse country. With only 2.4 per cent of the total land area of the world, the known biological diversity of India contributes 8 per cent to the known global biological diversity. In terms of Biogeography, India has been divided into 10 biogeographic zones as shown in the below table:
India has been devided into ten recognizable biogeographic zones as follows:
It constitutes 5.6 per cent of the total geographical area, includes the high altitude, cold and arid mountain areas of Ladakh, Jammu & Kashmir, North Sikkim, Lahaul and Spiti areas of Himachal Pradesh. This zone has sparse alpine steppe vegetation that harbours several endemic species and is a favourable habitat for the biggest populations of wild sheep and goat in the world and other rare fauna that includes Snow Leopard and the migratory Blacknecked Crane (Grus nigricollis). The cold dry desert of this zone represents an extremely fragile ecosystem.
It constitutes 6.4 per cent of the total geographical area includes some of the highest peaks in the world. The Himalayan zone makes India one of the richest areas in terms of habitats and species.
The alpine and sub-alpine forests, grassy meadows and moist mixed deciduous forests provide diverse habitat for endangered species of bovids such as Bharal (Pseudois nayaur), Ibex (Capra ibex), Markhor (Capra falconeri), Himalayan Tahr (Hemitragus jemlabicus), and Takin (Budoreas taxicolor). Other rare and endangered species restricted to this zone include Hangul (Cervus eldi eldi) and Musk Deer (Moschus moschiferus) .
Indian Desert Zone
Indian Desert Zone, constituting 6.6 per cent of the total geographical area, includes the Thar and the Kutch deserts and has large expanses of grassland that supports several endangered species of mammals such as Wolf (Canis lupus), Caracal (Felis caracal), Desert Cat (Felis libyca) and birds of conservation interest viz., Houbara Bustard (Chamydotis undulate) and the Great Indian Bustard (Ardeotis nigriceps).
Semi Arid Region
Semi-arid Region, constituting 16.6 per cent of the total geographical area, is a transition zone between the desert and the dense forests of Western Ghats.
Peninsular India has two large regions, which are climatically semi-arid. This semi-arid region also has several artificial and natural lakes and marshy lands.
The dominant grass and palatable shrub layer in this zone supports the highest wildlife biomass. The cervid species of Sambar (Cervus unicolor) and Chital (Axis axis) are restricted to the better wooded hills and moister valley areas respectively. The Lion (Leo persica), an endangered carnivore species (restricted to a small area in Gujarat), Caracal (Felis caracal), Jackal (Canis aureus) and Wolf (Canis lupus) are some of the endangered species that are characteristic of this region.
Constitutes 4.0 per cent of the total geographical area. It is one of the major tropical evergreen forest regions in India and represents one of the two biodiversity ‘hot spots’. Western Ghats are home to viable populations of most of the vertebrate species found in peninsular India, besides an endemic faunal element of its own.
Significant species endemic to this region include Nilgiri Langur (Presbytis jobni), Lion Tailed Macaque (Macaca silenus), Grizzled Giant Squirrel (Ratufa macroura), Malabar Civet (Viverricula megaspila), Nilgiri Tahr (Hemitragus bylocrius) and Malabar Grey Hornbill (Ocycerous griseus). The Travancore Tortoise (Indotestudo forstem) and Cane turtle (Heosemys silvatica) are two endangered taxa restricted to a small area in central Western Ghats.
Deccan Plateu is India’s largest biogeographic region making 42 per cent of the total geographical area. It’s a semi-arid region that falls in the rain shadow area of the Western Ghats. This biogeographic zone of peninsular India is by far the most extensive zone, covering India’s finest forests, particularly in the States of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Odisha.
Majority of the forests are deciduous in nature but there are regions of greater biological diversity in the hill ranges. The zone comprising of deciduous forests, thorn forests and degraded scrubland support diverse wildlife species.
Species found in this region are Chital (Axis axis), Sambar (Cervus unicolor), Nilgai (Boselapbus tragocamelus) and Chousingha (Tetracerus quadricornis), Barking deer (Muntiacus muntjak) and Gaur (Antilope cervicapra), Elephant (Elephas maximus) in Bihar-Orissa and Karnataka-Tamil Nadu belts, Wild Buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) in a small area at the junction of Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra and the hard ground Swamp Deer (Cervus duvauceli), now restricted to a single locality in Madhya Pradesh.
Gangetoc plain constitutes around 10.8 per cent of the total geographical area. The Gangetic plain is topographically homogenous for hundreds of kilometers. The characterstic fauna of this region include Rhino (Rhinoceros unicornis), Elephant (Elephas maximus), Buffalo (Bubalus bubalis), Swamp Deer (Cervus duvauceli), Hog-Deer (Axis porcinus) and Hispid Hare (Carprolagus bispidus).
North East Region
North East Region constitutes 5.2 per cent of the total geographical area. This region represents the transition zone between the Indian, Indo-Malayan and Indo-Chinese bio-geographical regions as well as being a meeting point of the Himalayan mountains and peninsular India. The North-East is thus the biogeographical ‘gateway’ for much of India’s fauna and flora and also a biodiversity hotspot (Eastern Himalaya). Many of the species contributing to this biological diversity are either restricted to the region itself, or to the smaller localized areas of the Khasi Hills.
Coastal region constitutes 2.5 per cent of the total geographical area with sandy beaches, mangroves, mud flats, coral reefs and marine angiosperm pastures make them the wealth and health zones of India. The coastline from Gujarat to Sunderbans is estimated to be 5,423 km long. Atotal of 25 islets constitute the Lakshadweep, which are of coral origin, and have a typical reef lagoon system, rich in biodiversity. However, the densely populated Lakshadweep islands virtually have no natural vegetation.
Andaman and Nicobar Islands
This constitutes 0.3 per cent of the total geographical area are one of the three tropical moist evergreen forests zones in India. The islands house an array of flora and fauna not found elsewhere. These islands are centres of high endemism and contain some of India’s finest evergreen forests and support a wide diversity of corals. In India, endemic island biodiversity is found only in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Some of the endemic fauna of Andaman & Nicobar islands include Narcondam hornbill, South Andaman krait etc.
Fauna and Flora of Biodiversity Hotspots in India
Eastern Himalaya forms a distinct phytogeographic region comprising Nepal, Bhutan, states of East and North-East India, and a contiguous sector of Yunnan province in South-Western China. The Eastern Himalayas harbor a staggering 10,000 plant species, 300 mammal species, 977 bird species, 176 reptiles, 105 amphibians and 269 types of freshwater fish. The region also has the highest density of Bengal tigers in the world and is the last bastion of the charismatic greater one-horned rhino.
Flora of Eastern Himalaya
- In the whole of Eastern Himalaya, out of the 10000 plant species, around 39% are endemic.
- At least 55 flowering plants endemic to this area are recognised as rare, for example, the Pitcher Plant (Nepenthes khasiana).
- Eastern Himalaya is a rich centre of primitive flowering plants and is popularly known as the ‘Çradle of Speciation’. The floral diversity in this region includes a vivid spectrum of diverse species including monocots and dicots.
- This region is also known as the centre of origin and diversification of five palms of commercial importance coconut, arecanut, palmyra palm, sugar palm and wild date palm.
- Tea (Thea sinensis) has been cultivated in this region for the last 4,000 years. Many wild and allied species of tea, the leaves of which are used as a substitute for tea, are found in the North East, in their natural habitats.
- The Taxol plant or Himalayan Yew (Taxus wallichiana) is sparsely distributed in the region and is listed under the red data category due to its overexploitation for extraction of a drug effectively used against various kinds of breast and ovarian cancer.
Fauna of Eastern Himalaya
- More than half (63%) of the genera of land mammals in India are found in Eastern Himalaya. During the last four decades, two new mammals have been discovered from the region viz. Golden Langur from Assam-Bhutan region, and Namdapha Flying Squirrel from Arunachal Pradesh.
- Not only that, a 100-million year-old gecko, the oldest fossil gecko species known to science, was discovered in an amber mine in the Hukawng Valley in the northern Myanmar.
- More than 60 per cent of the bird species found in India have been recorded in the North East. The region also hosts two endemic genera of lizards, and 35 endemic reptilian species, including two turtles. Of the 240 Indian amphibian species, at least 68 species are known to occur in the North East, 20 of which are endemic.
- From Namdapha National Park itself, a new genus of mammal, a new subspecies of a bird, six new amphibians species, four new species of fish, at least 15 new species of beetles and six new species of flies have been discovered.
Western Ghats is one of the richest centres of endemism in the world. Due to varied topography and microclimatic regimes, some areas within the region are considered to be active zones of speciation.
Flora of Western Ghats
- The region has 490 arborescent taxa, of which as many as 308 are endemic. About 1,500 endemic species of dicotyledonous plants are reported from the Western Ghats. 245 species of orchids belonging to 75 genera are found here, of which 112 species in ten genera are endemic to the region.
Fauna of Western Ghats
- As many as 315 species of vertebrates belonging to 22 genera are endemic, including 12 species of mammals, 13 species of birds, 89 species of reptiles, 87 species of amphibians and 104 species of fish.
- The extent of endemism is high amongst amphibian and reptile species. There occur 117 species of amphibians in the region, of which 89 species (76 per cent) are endemic. Of the 165 species of reptiles found in Western Ghats, 88 species are endemic
- Many of the endemic and other species are listed as threatened. Nearly 235 species of endemic flowering plants are considered endangered. Rare fauna of the region include – Lion Tailed Macaque, Nilgiri Langur, Nilgiri Tahr, Flying Squirrel, and Malabar Gray Hornbill.