India: Wildlife

Wildlife Zones in India

A brief description of the wildlife zones of India is given below:

The Trans-Himalaya

Stretching from Ladakh to the Lahul-Spiti the Trans-Himalaya covers an estimated land area of 186.200 sq. Km. Trans-Himalaya, means beyond the Himalaya. Outside the Indian region, the Trans-Himalaya is very extensive, covering a total of nearly 2.6 million sq_ km. Comprising the Tibetan plateau. Nursery to the Indus, Brahmaputra and Sutlej; decorated by the Zanskar, Ladakh and the Karakoram, the Trans-Himalaya is home to some of best biological grandeur which survive this cold desert conditions through their ability to economize resources. Some rare fauna like the Black Necked Crane breed in the brackish lakes like Tso Morari, Hanle and Chushul. Some parts of the Trans-Himalaya are above the snowline, including the Siachen, a 1, 180 sq. Km. Glacier said to be the largest outside the polar regions! Though the landscape is characterized by a distinct lack of natural forests, along the river banks and valleys, some greenery does exist. With willows, poplars, wild roses and many herbaceous plants and shrubs which is home to at least eight distinct species and/or sub-species of wild sheep includill5 the nayan or great Tibetan sheep (Ovis ammon hodgsoni), the urial or shapu (Ovis orientaiis), the bharal blue sheep (pseudois nayaur) and the ibex (Capra ibex). On the plateau of the Trans-Himalaya, The Tibetan antelope (Pantholops hodgsoni) or the chiru, and the Tibetan gazelle (Procapra picticaudata) are occasionally sighted. Smaller animals of the region include pikas. Marmots and Tibetan hares. The mountains are shared by predators like the snow leopard or ounce. The Pallas cat, Indian wolf and the lynx can also be seen with extreme luck.

The Himalaya

The worlds youngest, loft. Iest and most breathtaking mountain chains are home to several tropical life forms. Extending some 236, 300 sq. Km. In the Indian region, the Himalaya accounts for nearly seven per cent of the countrys total surface area. The Himalaya has extreme habitat. Types, ranging from arid Mediterranean and temperate in the western parts, to warm, moist, evergreen jungles in the east. Currently there are 56 protected areas in this zone and this cover roughly five per cent of the total surface area. 10 of these protected areas are National Parks where one can expect to see the amazing diversity of the flora and fauna that this region supports. In the luxuriant eastern parts where the tree-line is higher, animals like the red panda, binturong and several lesser cats can be seen with some effort. Of the existing 56 protected areas in the Himalaya, at least 41 lie in the temperate sector either completely, or partly (the higher reaches of some of these protected areas merge into the third major habitat type, the high altitude sub-alpine). The sub-alpine habitat type, above the middle level temperate sector (higher than 3, 500 metres) consists of birch, rhododendrons. Junipers, dwarf bamboo and a mixture or open meadows and scrub dotted grasslands. As habitat types change. a noticeable transformation takes place in the faunal community as reaches house several threatened species such as the ibex, shapu, wolf and snow-leopard. Nearly half the 56 protected areas in the Himalaya extend partially or extensively into the high-altitude sub-alpine. This area is supported with protection programmes like Project Hangul, the Himalayan Musk Deer Ecology and Conservation Project, the Snow Leopard Project and several Pheasant Projects. The Himalayas offers fantastic trekking and overland journey options to enjoy the fascinating wealth that is nurtures in its icy folds.

The Indian Desert

Spread through the majestic states of Gujarat and Rajasthan the Indian Desert is an amazing place to look for truly fantastic wild flora and fauna. Animals that never drink and plant seeds that can stay alive for years without water are typical of the miracles of this most fragile zone. In the Indian subcontinent, deserts, with an area of about 225, 000 sq. Km. Account for just under seven per cent of the total land area. Divided into two distinct sub-divisions, Thar desert region covering 180, 000 sq. Kms. In the state of Rajas than and the Rann of Kutchh, covering some 45, 000 sq. Kms of western Gujarat. It is a land of grand mirage and miracles. The desert system is characterized not so much by the variety and numbers of animal species but by the adaptations exhibited to tackle the rigors of desert life. The Thar shows a good extent of endemism in its faunal structure. The desert cat, desert fox, the winter-visiting houbara bustard and several dangerous species, as also a few reptiles are found only in the Thar Blackbuck, chinksra, the Indian wolf, caracal, great Indian bustard can also be seen here. In contrast to the sandy Thar, the Little and the Great Ranns, with very similar vegetation communities, have a high variety of faunal and floral composition. Though the Ranns are predominantly flatlands, they are interspersed with raised mour. Ds or islands, locally called bets. Both the Ranns have unique faunal communities. The Great Rann is best known for its huge breeding colony of lesser flamingoes. The Little Rann is the only home of the wild ass in the Indian peninsula, besides playing host to a fair number of houbara bustards, sandgrouse and bther avifauna.

The Semi-Arid Zone

Between the Indian desert and the Gangetic Plain, the Semi-arid Zone encompasses a total area of 508, 000 sq. Km. Covering nearly 15 per cent of Indias area, with vast grasslands and some fascinating forests home to the Leopard, Tiger and the Asiatic Lion this is a truly wild belt of India. Most of this houses the flat, alluvial deposits of the Indus river drainage system. The region comprises predominantly cultivated flatlands, interspersed with a network of wetlands-marshes and rivers. Consisting of the Punjab Plains in the North home to the Keoladeo Ghana Bird Sanctuary, Harike and Sultanpur and parts of Madhya Pradesh, and Gujarat in the South the Semi-arid Zone is a vast land-mass. The Aravalli and the Vindhya mountain ranges dominate the central portions of this zone. An resting feature of the zone is the heavy rainfall region of Mount Abu in the southern Aravallis. Here several plant and animal species bear close affinity to the Western Ghats. Plants such as those of the genus Acacia, Anogeissus, Balanites, Capparis, Grewia and several others clearly have African affinities. What is however, very interesting is the high density of wildlife (mainly ungulates) in the protected areas here, where livestock grazing and other adverse impacts have been controlled. The herbivores in this area include nilgai, blackbuck, chowsingha or four horned antelope, chinkara or Indian gazelle, sambar and spotted deer, the last two being more or less restricted to the forested mountain ranges and valleys. The Semi-arid Zone boasts of a good population and variety of predators including the wolf, caracal and the jackal, all of which have close relatives in Africa. Two of the finest tiger reserves Ranthabore and Sariska are located in the Aravallis. Amongst the richest of Indian wildlife areas. These two wilderness areas are true showpieces of lndian wildlife. On the whole. It can be stated that while the Semi-arid Zone does not exhibit any great endemism, it nevertheless holds viable populations of several species of conservation criticality today. Besides those mentioned above. Others include the sloth bear. Lesser Florican, the Great Indian Bustard, mugger, gharial, several turtles and also waterfowl. Both resident and migratory.

The Western Ghats

Along the west coast of lndia. Beginning from the Surat Dangs at the western extremity of the Satpuras in south Gujarat, for over 1, 500 km. To the southern tip of India in Kerala--stretch the Western Ghats. a mountain range second only to the Himalaya in magnificence. The Ghats are the second largest tropical evergreen and semi-evergreen forest belt of the sub-continent. There is a high degree of biological endemism; species desperately in need of preservation. The natural forests and protected areas of Western Ghats still house a biological wealth matched only by the North-east. The famous forests of Silent Valley form a part of this vital forested swatch. A wide climatic (rainfall and temperature) and geographical (altitude and associated mountain spurs) gradient exists in this zone. This is manifested in a tremendous diversity of vegetal communities and animal associations. From the coastal plains along the western flanks, the zone rises up to a maximum altitude of 2, 735 metres in the south. While falling gradually (sharply in a few places) along the eastern side, towards the dry Deccan Peninsula. The Western Ghats Zone covers barely five per cent. Of Indias area, but. Its biological rich ness can be best understood when one realize that 27 percent of all the species of higher plants recorded in the Indian region are found here (about 4, 000 of 15, 000 species). Further. Almost 1.800 species are endemic to the region. The Nilgiri Travancore Anamalai Palni Cardamom hill areas in the southern parts of the zone exhibit the highest degree of endemism. Further, several interesting plant associations are observed in the evergreen forests of the Zone. There are montane shoal forests, riverine or swamp forests and nearly half 8 dozen other evergreen species associations, mostly observed in the southern half of the Zone, where numerous ancillary mountain ranges converge to produce 8 region of exceptional diversity. Because of the heavy rainfall and healthy soil conditions that much of the Zones southern half enjoys. Cash crops like coffee. Cocoa, cardamom, rubber, tea and pepper are extensively grown. Setting in their wake additional man induced habitats. The Western Ghats Zone is also characterized by a series of forest gaps or breaks that are actually valleys that break the continuity of the mountain ranges a nd accordingly of the biological components as well. Some of the major ones are the Palghat Gap, the Moyar Gorge or Gap and the Shencottah Gap. These series of gaps have resulted in preventing the sp read of certain species and have hence, facilitated local speciation and endemism. The associated mountain ranges such as the Annamalais, the Nilgiris and the Agastyamalais are all separated by clear-cut barriers and besides the interesting floral speciation, a distinct faunal endemism and/or local speciation, is also found. Areas such as this are in urgent need of study and documentation. Though this zone has healthy populations of much of the animal species characteristic of peninsular India (tiger, elephant, gaur, dhole, sloth bear, panther and several species of deer), it also exhibits a fairly good degree of endemism among primates. Ungulates. Carnivores, rodents, squirrels and several birds. Amongst amphibia, most of the species and nearly half the genera are endemic, while a good degree of endemism is visible also amongst reptiles, fish and insects, most faunal endemism and restriction being only in the central and southern parts of the zone. Several of the zones faunal components are of 196 great interest & importance in that they have helped provide justification for what is called The Hora Hypothesis. This explains the spread of several species from the Himalaya and North-east along a once continuous central Indian mountain range into the Western Ghats. Giving rise to several interesting biological linkages between the Western Ghats. t he Himalaya and North-East! More natural history field research would reveal vital clues to the management of such areas.