Going beyond wild in India often translates to “Beyond Words”. Such is the diversity of wildlife in this country! With only 2.4% of the world’s land area, India accounts for 7-8% of all recorded species, including over 45,000 species of plants and 91,000 species of animals. Owing to the diverse geography and climate, four of the thirty four globally identified biodiversity hotspots occur in India. These are the Himalayas, the Western Ghats, the North-East, and the Nicobar Islands.
But the sad reality is that much of this magnificence is dwindling, before our very eyes and owing to our own actions. While environmentalists, public authorities and citizens exert conservation efforts, stark questions loom this World Wildlife Week (Oct 2-8) “are we doing enough”? The first step to doing well for wildlife is to appreciate wildlife. Here is A glimpse of some wonders from the wild side of India- their beauty, quirks and a glimpse of their dire situation.
1. From the Wild West: Great Indian Bustard (Ardeotis nigriceps)
IUCN status: Critically Endangered
About the Species: Less than 200 individuals exist in the wild (WWF India), and their population is on the decrease. An inhabitant of arid grasslands, its population is restricted to areas of Rajasthan, Gujarat and some parts of Maharashtra. The GIB’s is amongst the gravest bird-reductions in India and the world over, its total population has declined from an estimated 1,260 individuals in 1969 to ~300 individuals in 2008, to less than 200 today. Much of this decline was traditionally a result of direct hunting, for sport and food, and continues today as a result of habitat loss and degradation.
Why see it: A tall and heavy body, black crown on the head and pale neck and head make it a bird worth watching out for.
Where to see: The Great Indian Bustard Sanctuary near Solapur is amongst the last homes of the magnificent bird.
2. From the Nascent North: Kashmir Stag or Hangul (Cervus canadensis hanglu)
IUCN status: Moved up to “Critically Endangered” by IUCN.
About the Species: Originally believed to be a sub-species of red deer, genetic studies now prove this beautiful animal to be a type of elk. Once found in numbers of 3000-5000 in the 1940s, today they have been reduced to a mere ~150 in the wild, in the high Himalayas. Much of this decline is attributed to habitat destruction, over-grazing by domestic livestock and poaching. It is only natural that the species is listed amongst the top 15 species of high conservation priority by the Central Government.
Why see it: Standing tall with branched out antlers, the Kashmir Stag is the symbol of elegance with its reddish-tinged coat and relaxed demeanour.
Where to see: A major chunk of the last wild populations abound in Dachigam National Park located on the outskirts of Srinagar in Kashmir.
3. From the Surreal South: Lion-tailed macaque (Macaca silenus)
IUCN status: Endangered
About the Species: Endemic to the Western Ghat hill ranges, the species has a very small area of occupancy and highly fragmented population. IUCN estimates the total wild population at less than 4,000 individuals, and less than 2500 mature individuals. The upper canopy of primary tropical evergreen rainforest is its favorite habitat. Habitat fragmentation is the major threat to the species, already the existing population exists as 47 isolated subpopulations in seven different locations. The fact that the female gives birth only once in three years and that too only the dominant female gives birth, is a limiting factor for population increase.
Why see it: A mane of hair gives it the appearance of a lion, and so does the tuft of hair at the end of its tail. Thereby the name. It is an Old World Monkey, and males sport long canines. Shiny black coat coupled with light-coloured mane give it an interesting appearance.
Where to see: Some of the areas you can go to witness this intelligent species are the Sirsi-Honnavara rainforests of the northern Western Ghats in Karnataka, forests of Kerala and the Anaimalai Hills in Tamil Nadu.
4. From the Eclectic East: Red Panda (Ailurus fulgens)
IUCN status: Endangered
About the Species: A mammal that’s native to the Eastern Himalayas, its population has plausibly declined by 50% over the last three generations and is estimated at less than 10,000 in the wild. Being a habitat and food specialist, (Red Panda diet is 98% Himalayan bamboo), encroachment and direct hunting are major factors in its decline. It is distributed across Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar and Nepal, but in small populations, and almost 50% of the habitat is in the Eastern Himalayas. Initially placed in the racoon and bear families, it was later classified as the only living species of the genus Ailurus and the family Ailuridae.
Why see it: The reddish brown fur, robust facial features, long bushy tail and supple form are a delight to the eyes. It is a treat to watch them waddle up trees while going about their daily duties.
Where to see: Lachung Reserve Forest, Kanchendzonga National Park (NP), Barsey Rhododendron Sanctuary, Eagles Nest are some of the best places to spot this enchanting species.
5. From the Waters Deep Down: River Dolphin (Platanista gangetica gangetica)
IUCN status: Endangered
About the Species: Once rulers of the fresh-water world in the Indus, Ganges-Brahmaputra-Megna, and Karnaphuli-Sangu river systems, today these magnificent creatures have been reduced to paltry numbers. The Ganges sub-species is found in the Ganges mainstem in India between Maniharighat and Buxar and the lower Sangu River, Bangladesh. Today, about 1200-1800 individuals exist in the wild, owing to habitat destruction due to creation of dams and irrigation projects, water pollution and commercial fishing. They are known to be highly intelligent and social.
Why see it: Extending in length up to 2.5 metres, it can often be found swimming on one side so that its flipper trails the muddy bottom. They rise to the surface, often jumping out of the water and are a pleasure to watch.
Where to see: The Vikramshila Gangetic Dolphin Sanctuary is amongst the last remnants for spotting the friendly and frolicking species.
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