India’s wildlife is both rich and varied. More than 4% of India’s land is under forest cover- there are at least 90 national parks and 482 wildlife sanctuaries. The country is one of the 12 mega diversity areas in the world, in terms of animal.
he Indian subcontinent has varied physical and climatic conditions and types of vegetation, stretching from the northern temperate Zone to the equator and embracing such contrasting regions as the Himalayas in the north and tropical sea-coast in the south. The affinity of fauna of the Siwalik beds and that of present-day Africa and India suggest that they were derived from common species which migrated from Europe and Central Asia which enjoyed warm climate at that time. The advent of ice age in these regions must have forced many species to migrate southwards. Some of them reached India. Migration of fauna to India also took place from the eastern lands, which are now separated from the Bay of Bengal and also from the west. Thus the wild life of India comprises the originally indigenous species as well as the species which migrated from elsewhere. It is really the admixture of Indian, Malayan, African and European elements. The respective species inhabited the areas adjacent to their original home lands.
The Himalayan Sub-Region
The species in the high Himalayas show strong affinities with palaeartic region as some of the animals are found both in the oriental region as well as palaeartic 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 One-Horned Rhinoceros. is sal. The area is characterized by tall grassy meadows with adjoining river-beds 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. Bispid hare and pigmy hog which are on the verge of extinction and golden langur are found in Manas National Park in Assam.
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, dwarf hill bamboo, followed by Alpine pastures up to the snow-line. The desert plateau of Ladakh is in the north-west. 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.
YakThe animals found in the high altitude region are, wild ass, wild goats, sheep and yak. The species of wild goat are thar, markhor and ibex. Thar 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 Uttar Pradesh.
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 consist 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, ferrests 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
pandaThis 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 storeyed vegetation. The upper storey 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 grass land dotted with patches of dense evergreen forests. These grasslands are known as sholas. They provides 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 height 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 toris, malabar civet and spring mouse. In north eastern part, hoolock gibbon and golden langur are found. Binturong, red-pandas, slow lories 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 forest in the world. There are about 200 species of trees of which Padauk, Gurjain, silver-gray etc are prominent. Some of the endemic species of the islands are wild pig, norcondum,Horn Bill 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 consist 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 number 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, Nandhapha 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 consist 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, desert cat, Caracal, 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 has sal as the predominant species and the southern part has teak as the main species. Western ghats of the western portion if the central belt receive very high rainfall and support evergreen vegetation.
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 Vindhyas 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, Keoladeo and desert in Rajasthan.
Great Himalayan National Park
Place: Kulu district, Himachal Pradesh
Nearest town: Kulu (60km)
Best time to visit: September to November and April to June
Attractions: Wild Mountain Goats, Musk deer, leopards, bears, Pheasants
The park officially known as the Jawaharlal Nehru Great Himalayan National Park, was established in1984 in Kulu district. Bounded by the towering peaks of the Himalayas on three sides with an entrance from the west, the park covers an area of 620sq.km.of the previously-established Tirthan Sanctuary. The park which lies in the Seraj Forest Division in the upper catchments of the rivers Thirthan, Jiwa and Sainj has an altitude varying from 1500 to around 6000 meters with snowy mountains, glaciers, river valleys, cliffs and dense forest.
The vegetation here ranges from deciduous forests of blue pine and cedar, oak and bamboo and grass meadows covered with wild flowers. The fauna consist of wild mountain goats and sheep like the Himalayan thar, bharal, goral and serow, musk deer, leopard, brown and black bears, wolf, flying squirrel, langurs, rhesus macaques and snow leopards which are rarely seen. The birds both indigenous and migrant variety are found including the Western tragopan, monal pheasant, cheer pheasant etc.
Special permits from the Park Director at Shamsi or the range officers at Larji, Sairopa, Banjar or Sainj are required by tourists for entrance to the Great Himalayan National Park. No vehicle is allowed inside the park. Visitors has to go on foot accompanied by Guides which is compulsory and the entrance is allowed only between sunrise and sunset. A popular trek through the beautiful wilderness is to Rakte Sar, the origin of the Sainj river. The Forests Department provides camping equipment and guides. It is advisable to stick to the best season from September to November / April to June as the winters are too cold and the monsoons bring in landslides and muddy trails.
Where to stay
There are guesthouses available for stay at Kullu. There are also 14 inspection huts or rest houses with minimum facilities within the park, but prior permission is needed for occupying them. Forest rest houses exist at Aut, Sainj, Sairopa, Banjar Shangarh etc. Reservations should be made well in advance and it is best to carry your own bedding and food.
How to get there
Air: The nearest airport at Bhuntar, at a distance of 50km. from the park and 10km from Kulu is well connected to the rest of the country. Taxis and buses are available from the airport.
Rail: The nearest railhead is Joginder Nagar nearly 100km from the park and Chandigarh.
Road: Kulu is well connected to Shimla, Chandigarh, Delhi and Ambala. There are luxury buses available from Kulu to Shimla (240km)and Delhi via Mandi (530 km)and back. From Kulu buses ply through NH # 21via Aut (30km).From Aut the road access to the park is only up to Gushaini or Neuli.
Pin Valley National Park
Place: Lahaul & Spiti District, Himachal Pradesh
Nearest town: Kaza
Best time to visit: March to June & September to October
Attractions : Rare species like Snow leopards, wooly hare, Tibetan gazelle
Spread over an area of 675sq.km, this park is located in the Pin valley of the Spiti region of Lahaul and Spiti district. It was declared a National Park on 9th January 1987. The area has a mountainous track with elevation from 3,700 to 6,600mts from the mean sea level. The park is perpetually covered with snow above 5,000mts.
The vegetation is sparse and cold desert type prominent shrubs are wild rose, hipochea, ephedra etc. The main species of animals in this park are snow leopard, snow wolf, Himalayan brown fox, ibex, Bharal, Himalayan blue sheep, Red Indian Fox, mouse hare and marmots, porcupine, weasels, lizards and rare species like the wooly hare, Tibetan gazelle etc. Prominent birds are Himalayan snow cock, chakar partridge, hill pigeon, yellow and red bill chough, coots, teals and pen tails.
The wildness and remoteness of the rough terrain makes the area difficult to access for commoners. Foreign tourists are not allowed. Even Indian tourists are required to obtain a permit for entry from Deputy Commissioner, Shimla or Sub Divisional Magistrate, Rampur.
Places to stay
Nearby Kaza town has a variety of facilities for stay. Some of the hotels in Kaza include Milarepa’s Guest House, Hotel Sharma, Hotel City and Ladakhi Hotel. At Keylong, a Tourist Bungalow is run by HTPDC, other hotels in Keylong are Geypa Hotel, Hotel Gang Steng, Hotel Snowland etc.
How to get there
Air: Nearest airport is Shimla at a distance of 375km
Rail: Nearest rail head is Shimla at a distance of 375km
Road : Manali is well connected by road from all parts of the country. From Manali one can take a bus to Lahaul -Spiti through National Highway 21 depending upon the opening and closing of Rohtang pass, the gateway to the valley. One can also approach from Shimla via the Spiti valley and from Zanskar and Ladakh over the Shingo-La and Baralacha-La passes. The Shingo-La gives access to Lahaul from Zanskar while the Baralacha-La is on the Leh-Manali road and provides access to Lahaul from Ladakh.