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Indian wildlife is as varied as its wildlife habitats from evergreen jungles, deciduous forests, scrubs, deserts, marine, and grasslands to wetlands India is home to a rich diversity of wildlife. The country offers immense opportunities for wildlife lovers. Indian treasure of wildlife comprises of more than 70 national parks and about 400 wildlife sanctuaries including the Ramsar Convention sites (UNSCO heritage sites).

A paradise for the nature lovers, these forest areas are also crucial for the conservation of some of the rare and the endangered species. Spread across the length and the breadth of India, these reserves and forest areas, right from the Desert national Park in Rajasthan, the west most, to the Keibul-Lamjao National Park in Manipur, the east, Dachigm up in the Himalayas, the Jim Corbett National Park and Rajaji National Park at the foot hills of the Himalayas to six national parks in Andaman, offer the most stunning and amazing diversity, nature has bestowed with, this part of the world.  The Indian Wildlife circuit is an incredible treat, unmatched by any other experience or by standard.

The Indian subcontinent is very rich in species. This is partly due to its altitudinal range, extending from sea level to the summit of the great Himalayas, the world’s highest mountain. Another reason is the region’s highly varied climate and diverse habitat offering forests, scrubs wetlands, grasslands, deserts and seas. Other contributing factor to the subcontinent’s flora fauna-richness is the positional overlapping of three biogeographical provinces: the Indomalayan (South and Southeast Asia), Palearctic (Europe and North Asia) and Afrotropical (Africa) realms. As a result, species typical of all three realms occur.

Based on the distinctive types of flora and fauna the Indian subcontinent has been divided in to three sub regions though they do not form rigid boundaries. They are (a) Himalayan sub-region (b) Tropical rain forest (c) Indian Peninsular region. Certain species are widespread in the country and cover more than one region. Thus there is always an intermingling of species between these zones.

The Himalayan Sub-Region

The species in the high Himalayas show strong affinities with Palearctic region as some of the animals are found both in the oriental region as well as Palearctic region indicating the possibility of their migration from the other side of India.

The region has accordingly been divided into three sub zones

  • The forested area (Himalayan foot hills) of the Himalayas from Assam to the Eastern part of Kashmir.
  • The higher altitude of the western Himalayas from Kashmir including Ladakh to the hills.
  • The Eastern Himalayan sub-region.

a) The forested Area of Himalayas (Himalayan Foothills)

The area covers, bhabar, tarai and siwalik ranges in the south. The area is covered with tropical forests. The dominant species is sal. The area is characterized by tall grassy meadows with adjoining riverbeds and river rain forests of khair and sisoo. This is an area of big mammals. The elephant, sambar, swamp deer, cheetel, hog deer, barking deer, wild boar, tiger, panther, wild dog, black and sloth bear are found in this area. Hyena and jackal are scavengers. The great Indian one horned rhinoceros, which is considered a rare species, is found in Assam. Other large bovid, wild buffalo shares its habitat with rhinoceros. Wild buffalo is also an endangered species. The brow-antlered deer, the dancing deer, which is one of the most threatened deer in the world, is found in Manipur. The Gangetic gharial exists in the Himalayan tributaries. Biped hare and pigmy hog, which are on the verge of extinction and golden langur, are found in Manas National Park in Assam.

The Kaziranga National Park in Assam (famous for one horned rhinoceros), Sirohi and Keibul Lamjao National Park in Manipur (famous for brow antlered deer), and Corbett, Dudhwa and Rajaji National Parks in Uttar Pradesh are located in this sub region.

b) The high altitude sub-region of Western Himalayas

With increase in altitude in the western part of the Himalayan sub region, the tropical forests merge into the temperate type. The zone forests oak, rhododendron, and dwarf hill bamboo, followed by Alpine pastures up to the snow line. The desert plateau of Ladakh is in the northwest. When there is severe winter in the Alpine Zone, a number of species migrate to the coniferous forests in the southern part and move up to their homes in the Alpine region with the on set of summer.

The animals found in the high altitude region are, wild ass, wild goats, sheep and yak. The species of wild goat are tahr, markhor and ibex. Tahr roams in coniferous forests. Markhor, which is considered to be the finest goat, is found above the tree-line. A very agile goat with rich fur, it climbs the tree to browse its leaves. The Ibex live above the tree-line and below the snowline. The three species of wild sheep found here are nayan, bharal and oriel. These sheep feed on the Alpine meadows and grassy mountain slopes. The antelopes found are chiru and Tibetan gazelle.

Hangul or Kashmir's stag, shou and musk-deer, are the members of the deer family is in this zone. These rare deer require special attention for their protection. The small animals of the Zone are marmot, mouse hare and flying squirrel. Among mammals of the Zone is snow-leopard, the most beautiful animal hunted for its attractive skin. Wolf, fox, black and brown bear, palas cats are other predators. A large number of pheasants, snow partridges, snow cocks, golden eagle are the birds of this sub-region.

The National Park in this Zone are Dachigan, Khistwar and Hemis high altitude National Parks in Jammu and Kashmir, Great Himalayan and Pin Valley National Parks in Himachal Pradesh and Gangotri, Nanda Devi, Govind Pashu Vihar and Valley of flowers National Parks in Uttarkhand.

c) The Eastern Himalayan Sub Zone

The Eastern Himalayan region differs from the western region. There is high rainfall and less snowfall confined to high altitude. The vegetation in this zone consists of oak, birches, magnolias, pine, fir, yew, rhododendron dwarf, bamboo and moss and fem. The typical species of the zone characterized by Indo-Chinese fauna are red pandas, badgers, porcupines, ferrets etc. The goats found in this area are serow, goral and takin.

The National Park falling in this zone is Khangchandonga National Park in Sikkim and Neora Valley and Singlila National Park in West Bengal.

The Tropical Rain Forest Sub-Region

This sub-region comprises Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura, Western ghats, West Bengal and Andaman and Nicobar Islands which receive heavy rainfall. These areas are covered with evergreen forests. These forests have three-storied vegetation. The upper storie consisting of tall and magnetic trees forms the top canopy receiving most of the sunlight. Trees of lesser height form the middle storey. They prefer shade and require less height. The thick, dense and rich environment is capable of providing food and shelter to a host of animals of all kinds-the ground dwellers as well as tree dwellers. In the south Nilgiris, Annamalai, Palani hills and other south Indian ranges have extensive grassland dotted with patches of dense evergreen forests. These grasslands are known as sholas. They provide shelter to elephants, gaur and other large animals. Himalayan animals such as tahr, pine marten and European Otter, live here. The Vegetation and animals of the region show affinity with high altitude forests of Assam.

The other species found in this region are Nilgiri langur, Nilgiri brown mongoose, stripe-necked mongoose, lion-tailed macaque, slender loris, malabar civet and spring mouse. In northeastern part, hoolock gibbon and golden langur are found. Binturong, red pandas, slow loris are the characteristics of this part. Giant squirrel, civets and bats also dwell in these tropical rain forests.

The forests of Andaman and Nicobar islands come under the equatorial belt of tropical rain forests. Due to their separation from the main land, most of the islands are free from human settlement. They carry one of the most beautiful forests in the world. There are about 200 species of trees of which Padauk, Gurjan, silver-gray etc are prominent. Some of the endemic species of the islands are wild pig, hornbill, Nicobar-megapode, Andaman teal, Nicobar pigeon, white bellied sea eagle, Andaman Cat snake, Nicobar legless snake etc. There are 16 species of bats and 13 species of rats. Constituting nearly 3/4th of the total numbers of mammals. The representative of ungulates, squirrels, carnivaora and larger mammals are absent. Deer species were introduced in the Island during 1920s. All of them except Sambar have survived; civet was also introduced which has multiplied to dangerous proportion. The fauna now found are macaque, palm civet, spotted deer, barking deer, hog deer, dugong etc. The marine life consists of crocodile, turtle, coconut-crabs, water monitor, green lizard and 40 species of snakes including cobra, viper, coral and sea snakes and pythons.

The highest numbers of tigers are found in mangrove forest, which are found in Sunderbans delta formed by the estuaries of Ganga and the Brahmaputra. The animal besides tiger are spotted deer, pigs, rhesus, monkey, lizard, water monitor, crocodile, crabs and fish. The fish-the mud skipper- can climbs trees. Weaver ants found here make their nest in the trees. The tiger here is the most interesting animal, which swims in the creeks, preys on fish and crabs besides spotted deer and wild boar. The tigers here have the propensity of killing human beings.

The National parks in this region are Balphakram and Norkok in Meghalaya, Guindy and Marine National park in Tamil Nadu, Sunderbans in West Bengal, Namdhapha and Mauling in Arunachal Pradesh, Saddle, North Button, Middle Button, South Button, Marine and Mount Harriet in Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Bhagvan Mahabir in Goa, Eravikulam, Periyar and Silent Valley National Parks in Kerala.

The Indian Peninsular Sub-Region

This sub-region comprises the area from the base of Himalayas to Kanyakumari but excludes the Malabar Coast. This is the true home of Indian fauna. The whole sub region can be divided into two broad zones. 1) The desert region of Rajasthan lying on the west of the Aravali ranges and east of the Indus Valley also known as Thar, connected with salt flats of Little Rann of Kutch and 2) the tropical deciduous wood lands covering peninsular India extending to the drainage basin of the Ganges river system.

The desert area of this sub-region consists of dry tropical, dry mixed deciduous, thorn forests, scrub forests and dry Savanna forests. The desert trees are thorny with reduced leaf surface Cacti and Succulents are the plant species in the desert area. The animals have also developed adaptations to face the scarcity of water and severity of high temperature.

The fauna found in this area are Asiatic wild-ass, blackbuck, blue bull, chinkara, desert cat, desert fox, snakes, lizards and tortoises.

The region of peninsular India and the drainage basin of the Ganges consists of tropical moist deciduous to tropical dry deciduous and scrub forest depending upon the rainfall. The northern and the eastern part, which receive more rain, have sal as the predominant species and the southern part has teak as the main species.

The peninsular India has a variety of wild animals such as elephant, muntjak, sambar, wild boar, guar, chettal, hog deer, swamp deer or barasingha, nilgai, blackbuck, wild dog, tiger, leopard, lion, hyena, jackal, jungle cat, common mongoose, wolf, squirrel, hare etc. The spotted deer, nilgai, blackbuck, four-horned antelope (chausingha) and sloth bear found in the triangular land bounded by the Vindhyans in the north and the western and eastern ghats on the other two sides, constitute the true Indian fauna which are not found anywhere else outside India.

The National parks in this region are Betla in Jharkhand, Gir, Velavadar, Vansda, Marine in Gujarat, Bandipur, Bannarghata, Nagarhole, Kudremukh and Anshi in Karnataka, Kanna, Bandhavgarh, Madhav, Indravati, Panna, Satpura, Sanjay, Van Vihar, Fossil, Kanger and Pench in Madhya Pradesh, Tadoba, Panch, Nawagaon, Sanjay Gandhi in Maharashtra, Simlipal in Orissa, Ranthambore, Sariska, Kumbhal garh, Chambal and Keoladeo in Rajasthan.

Looking for the star attraction among the bewildering verity of Indian wild? One can go by the protected zones chosen by UNICEF as World Heritage Sites. Manas National Park,, the richest in species of all Indian wildlife areas, some of the endangered species it hosts are golden langur, pigymy hog, tiger, clouded leopard and gangetic dolphins. Sunderbans, a 10,000 sq, km mangrove forest that spreads across India and Bangladesh, has the Irawadi and Gangetic dolphins, Olive Ridley turtles, finless porpoise, fishing cats, a plethora of water birds and the largest tiger population in India.

Kaziranga, where the conservation of one-horned rhinoceros is a successes story, the National Park also contains species such as hoolock gibbon and the bristly hare. Nandadevi, which lies in the west glacial basin of the Rishi Ganga River, snow bound for half of the year is home to the Himalayan tahr, Himalayan musk deer, Himalayan black bear and the exotic snow leopard and the Keoladeo Ghana, once a private duck shooting reserve of royals, harbors some 364 species of birds and is specially famous as the wintering ground of the now-dwindling Siberian Cranes.
 
A very important and as fascinating a fact as the breathtaking biodiversity of India is the presence of a very thin marginal population of the tribal, living in side or at the fringes of these pristine places. These tribal have played a crucial and decisive role in protecting the precious Indian biodiversity, which evolved on our earth over the eons. A visit to a place of wildlife interest, if explored and viewed through the assistance of its local inhabitants, can for sure turn it sensational, as their knowledge about the particular habitat is as old as the diversity, itself.