by the 400 wildlife sanctuaries and 80 national parks which are found within its borders and with some of the world’s most beautiful animals calling the country home¹. However, in a land where poverty is rife but which is keen to embrace a modern life of development and progression, protecting species from extinction is a particularly challenging prospect. Here’s a look at the species which are in most need of help.
The Indian or Bengal tiger is a handsome beast which ranges throughout India, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh, roaming through high altitude, rainforests, grasslands and mangroves². Those in India form around half of the world’s remaining population but with an estimated population of fewer than 2000, the species is listed as endangered³. Poaching for tiger parts is the biggest threat, as they are killed to fuel a highly lucrative Chinese market⁴. The bones are used in wine, a traditional element of Chinese medicine which is thought to impart great strength, while the pelts end up adorning the floors of wealthy private collectors. The biggest issue is that it is not poor, badly organized hunters who are supplying this demand, but that it is run by sophisticated, organized gangs who are part of a huge international network with ties to other wildlife crimes. Although arrests have been made, the tigers are still suffering, mainly due to an overburdened legal system that gives out light penalties and the fact that wildlife crime is a low priority.
The Ganges river dolphin
The Ganges river dolphin is down to around 300 individuals and although once present across the country, they are now only found in the Brahmaputra area. The main reason for this is the building of water development projects, which have degraded habitat and created ‘sinks’ where the dolphins can enter but cannot leave. Pollution is also a major factor in the decline, with many rivers suffering from agricultural and industrial discharges, with chemicals including DDT and arsenic common. Although deliberate killings have decreased, they are still hunted for their meat and oil.
The gharial is a type of long-nosed crocodilian which is native to the Indian sub-continent and which possesses a distinctive boss-shaped protuberance on its nose. Although once found in Pakistan, Myanmar, Bhutan and elsewhere, it is thought now to be extinct everywhere except India and Nepal⁶. Gharials share the tough hide of their relatives and it is for this reason, along with habitat pressures such as development and agriculture, that they are facing extinction. They are hunted for their skin and other parts, which are used decoratively and in traditional medicines, while their nests are also commonly raided for their eggs which are eaten by certain tribes⁷.
The Indian bustard
One of the world’s heaviest birds, the Indian bustard, is in terminal decline following decades of hunting for sport and for food⁸. It is now most threatened by habitat loss and degradation, as agricultural development proceeds aggressively and mining gathers pace. They have also been the unfortunate victims of some well intended, but poorly organized, management efforts, with an estimated 250 individuals (at most) remaining in the wild.
Rhino horn has long been valued in Chinese Traditional Medicine and in Africa, where it is used for ornamental dagger handles, and the Indian rhino has suffered greatly for continuing demand for such products¹¹. Poaching has unfortunately seen a recent rise, with hunters using assault rifles to slaughter the animals, but high profile initiatives such as the International Rhino Vision are proving that a positive future is possible¹².
Blackbuck are a species of antelope that is both graceful and beautiful, the dark fur on its back elegantly complemented by its white underside. Although once abundant across the Indian subcontinent, they are now extremely restricted in numbers, thanks to the twin threats of habitat loss and poaching¹³. They are highly valued for their meat as well as by trophy hunters, due to the male’s impressive horns.
Indian wild ass
The Rann of Kutch is one of the last homes of the Indian wild ass, or khur, despite once being found across Mongolia, Russia and China. In India, only around 350 individuals remain, although other scattered populations exist. Its decline can be attributed to a sad mix of hunting, canal building, competition with livestock for grazing land and salt mining and which has left this tranquil animal on the ropes¹⁴.
The dhole is a kind of highly social wild dog that is known for its distinctive vocal calls. Unpopular with locals, it has been persecuted for decades, with bounties offered for carcases until 1972, while habitat fragmentation has also given rise to inbreeding and disease, further reducing numbers to the 2500 or so that remain today.
The Nilgiri langur
The Nilgiri langur is a primate with a glossy dark brown coat that lives at altitudes of 300-2000m above sea level in tropical forests. The animal faces a number of threats, including habitat loss from agricultural and settlement expansion, mining, dam construction and hunting for the pet trade and traditional medicine.
The red panda
The last animal on the list is the red panda. There are two kinds in the world, with the one variety that lives in India found across 20 protected areas. The red panda is threatened due to habitat degradation from excessive extraction of wood for fuel, while severe increases of feral wild dogs are leading to heavy predation of these largely defenceless creatures¹⁵.