Important Short Notes on Fauna and Flora for Prelims
The big cat species addressed in these regulations are thelion, tiger, leopard, snow leopard, clouded leopard,cheetah, jaguar, cougar, and any hybrid combination any of these species (liger, tigon, etc) that results from breeding of these big cat
Big Cats Found in India
Five cats of felidae family are Indian Lion,Indian Tiger,Indian Leopard, Snow Leopard and Clouded Leopard. A new big cat known as Pogeyan grey big cat recently found in the wild forest of Western Ghats, no images and information is available so far but its exits in the dark forest. Lions are the only cats that live in groups, called prides. Prides are family units that may include up to three males, a dozen or so females, and their young
Last habitant of Asiatic Lion
Five protected areas currently exist to protect the Asiatic lion: Gir Sanctuary, Gir National Park, Pania Sanctuary, Mitiyala Sanctuary, and Girnar Sanctuary. The first three protected areas form the Gir Conservation Area, a 1,452 km2 (561 sq mi) forest block that represents the core habitat of the Asiatic lions.
Major difference between Asiatic Lion and African Lions
The Asiatic lions have belly fold and distinctive tuft of hair on elbow which are absent on African lions.
Clouded Leopard in India
Clouded Leopard (Neofelis Nebulosa) is a vulnerable wild cat found in the Indian Himalayan foothills of northeast India. In India, clouded leopards are restricted to the country’s north-east: the eastern Himalayas, the Assam valley,
Dears and Antelopes
Antelopes are native to Africa and Eurasia. The Tibetan antelope, and Saiga Antelope are found in Russia and Central Asia; Arabian Oryx and Dorcas Gazelle in the Arabian Peninsula; and Nilgai, Chinkara, Blackbuck and Four-horned Antelope in India. They live in a wide range of habitats. Some species are sedentary while many, especially the plain species, undertake huge migrations. Deer are found in all continents except Antarctica and Australia. Africa has only one native species, the Red Deer. Deer live in a variety of habitats ranging from tundra to the tropical rainforest.
The blackbuck, also known as the Indian antelope, is an antelope found in India, Nepal and Pakistan. The blackbuck is the sole extant member of the genus Antilope. the Blackbuck are one of the original inhabitants of the Coromandal coast. Black Buck are easily spotted in the Corbett and Velvadar National Parks.
The sangai is an endemic and endangered subspecies of brow-antlered deer found only in only on a floating biomass on Manipur’s Loktak lake. It is also state animal of Manipur. Sangai is a medium-sized deer, with uniquely distinctive antlers, with extremely long brow tine, which form the main beam.
Chinkara or Indian Gazelle
The chinkara, also known as the Indian gazelle, ravine deer or jebeer gazelle, is a gazelle species native to Iran, Pakistan and India. They hiss through the nose, hence the local name Chinkara (the sneezer).
Their range covers much of western and central India, extending through Pakistan, south-western Afghanistan into north-central Iran.
Tibetan antelope of Chiru is endemic to the Tibetan Plateau, this antelope is found mainly in Chinese regions although some individuals migrate to Ladakh in India
The Shahtoosh Threat
There were about ten hundred thousand chirus residing on the Tibet plateau some 50 years ago, according to reports. Now, this number has been reduced to a mere 75,000. Chiru is a Tibetan antelope, which also exists in Ladakh region of India and the Tibet plateau.
90 per cent decline has been due to uncontrolled poaching, which is done for the wool obtained from this antelope. The wool is called shahtoosh, (meaning “king of the fine wools” in Persian). Shawls are made out of shahtoosh wool, which use the delicate hair of chiru. Some people even say that such a shawl can pass through a finger ring easily.
The process of shawl making is not a recent one; it has been carried out since the time of the moguls. The shawls are still made illegally and sold, which may be worth more than Rs 10 lakh (18,000 USD approx) in the illegal market. To make a shawl, three chirus have to be killed. There may be a question as to why do they have to kill the chiru to obtain its hair? Can’t the hair combed out of the live animal? The answer is that the shahtoosh comes out of the undercoat of the animal and it cannot be harvested without killing it.
Many wildlife organisations created campaigns to showcase how cruelly the animal was killed to make a luxury item such as shahtoosh, but traders even used this to lure customers into paying high prices. The traders also told customers that the chiru rubbed its neck on rocks and its hair fell off which were collected by hunters and used for making the shawl.
Actually if the pashmina made out of goat wool and the shahtoosh made from chiru wool are to be compared, the shahtoosh wool’s diameter is 10-12 micron while the pashmina’s is 12-16 micron. However, the pashmina is warmer and more beautiful. So why is the shahtoosh used by people? Perhaps, the only reason is that it is rare. However, there are many animals that have lost their lives to fulfil people’s fantasy of possessing rare objects.
Protection of Chiru
In 1977, the Government of India declared the Chiru as protected under Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act of India, 1972. Hunting and trading in products of all Schedule I species is illegal and is punished by heavy fines and imprisonment. Killing the Chiru is also in contravention to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), to which 151 countries are signatories, including India.
Barasingha is assessed as Vulnerable under criterion C1 because the estimated total population lies between 3,500 and 5,100 animals (not all of which will be mature individuals) and outside of several key populations, the protection status is not secure. Thus, the species is assumed to still be in decline by at least 10% over 24 years (three generations) mostly due to habitat conversion and degradation.
The Barasingha is currently found in isolated localities in north and central India, and southwestern Nepal. It is extinct in Pakistan.
Into the early twentieth century, the Barasingha was widely distributed in areas of suitable habitat throughout the Indo–Gangetic plain and the lowlands flanking the southern Himalaya. The range formerly extended eastward across the terai of southern Nepal through the Sundarbans as far as Assam. Barasingha occurred west to the River Indus, into Pakistan, and as far south as the River Godavari area of east-central India.
Tibetan Gazelle is a monotypic species without subspecies based on morphology.The overall rate of decline is inferred to have reached around 20% over the last three generations (12 years) and is therefore close to meeting the threshold for Vulnerable under criterion A2d. This decline is due to illegal hunting, growing competition with domestic livestock, change sin land-use and government policy of fencing rangelands (all factors that have increased over the past five years).
This gazelle occurs across virtually the whole Qinghai-Tibet Plateau (China), extending a small distance into two adjoining areas of India (Ladakh, Sikkim). Over 99% of its range lies in China.
It inhabits high-altitude plains, hills, wetland margins, and stony plateaux; up to at least 5,750 animals. They prefer open high-elevation alpine meadows and alpine steppe and avoid desert steppe. It lives singly or in small groups of 3 to 20 animals, gathering in larger herds during migrations to higher summer pastures.
The Indian Spotted Chevrotain (Moschiola meminna) is often referred to as the Mouse Deer. However in recent times, Indian Spotted Chevrotain seems to be the preferred usage. This diminutive animal is nocturnal in habit, making it very difficult to see one in daylight. Occasionally a chevrotain may be seen late in the evening or early in the morning if it ventures out into the open like the one in this image, photographed one foggy morning near the Kabini backwaters in Nagarahole.
Invariably, they are seen by sheer chance – when one is disturbed from its hiding place. The mottled markings on their body provide them excellent camouflage, helping them to hide in their environment, especially if the animal stays immobile.
The Indian Spotted Chevrotain is a denizen of evergreen and deciduous forests of India and may be partial to well-watered areas. They are known to lead a predominantly solitary life. Very little is known about the ecology and behaviour of the Indian Chevrotain with much of the information being in the form of anecdotal observations and sight records. They lack antlers that most true deer sport and instead posses well developed canine teeth, which are probably used in fights.
Superbly adapted for life at high altitudes, the Himalayan musk deer has well-developed dewclaws and large, wide toes that provide increased stability on steep slopes, and a dense coat of coarse hairs with air-filled cells that insulate against the extreme temperature.
Unlike true deer of the family Cervidae, the Himalayan musk deer lacks antlers, instead possessing a pair of tusk-like, enlarged canines that grow throughout the deer’s life to reach as much as ten centimetres in length. The body is stocky, and the forelimbs are short and thin compared to the longer, more powerful rearlimbs. The curved posture of the spine, legs and larger rear mean that, rather than running, this agile deer leaps with a distinctive, bounding gait. The dark brown fur on the young fawns is speckled with white spots, but later becomes more uniform in colour, although adults retain two white spots on the neck.
The Himalayan musk deer is perhaps most famous for the waxy substance called musk that the male deer secrets from a gland in the abdomen. This pungent secretion is typically used to mark territories and deter rival males during the breeding season, but it has also been used in the manufacture of perfumes, soap and medicinal preparations, making musk one of the most highly valued animal products
Four-horned antelopes are found primarily in wooded areas in India. The species is still widely distributed throughout its range. T. quadricornis uses the hilly country and tall grassy areas for shelter. It prefers open forests and is rarely seen, dashing into thick cover at the first sign of danger.
Anteaters are edentate animals—they have no teeth. But their long tongues are more than sufficient to lap up the 35,000 ants and termites they swallow whole each day. The giant anteater can reach 7 feet long from the tip of its snout to the end of its tail.
This species is distributed in South Asia from parts of eastern Pakistan through much of India south of the Himalayas, Southern Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. There are historical records of this species in southwest China and there have been dubious records in Myanmar.
This species is very locally distributed in Pakistan. In India, this species is widely distributed from the plains and lower hills south of the Himalayas to extreme southern India. There are historical records from Kerala and Kanyakumari; Tamil Nadu; Delhi; Madhya Pradesh (Gwalior and Achanakur Wildlife Sanctuaries, Chambal National Park and Achanakuar Wildlife Sanctuary); Karnataka (Bandipur, Bhadra, Dalma and Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuaries; Bandipur Tiger Reserve); West Bengal (Buxa Tiger Reserve, Singalila Wildlife Sanctuary); Goa (Catugao Wildlife Sanctuary); Gujarat (Gir National Park); Rajasthan (Keolodeo Ghana Wildlife Sanctuary); Orissa including Kotgarh and Kuldiha Wildlife Sanctuaries and the Sunabedh Plateau, while Mishra and Panda (2012) report its presence in 14 out 30 districts here based on animals that have been rescued, as well as the Himalayan foothills of Uttar Pradesh. Srinivasulu and Srinivasulu (2012) state this species also occurs in Andhara Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Uttarakhand.
This species is listed as Endangered A3d+4d because it is subject to hunting and increasing levels of poaching, principally for its meat and scales, both for local use and for illicit international trade in scales, which has also occurred historically. Available evidence suggests this trade is destined for East Asia where scales are used in traditional medicines. It is suspected populations of this species will fall by at least 50% in the next 21 years
Chinese Pangolin is also found in several parts of India and other countries. It is also an at eater, classified as endangered by the IUCN. It is highly specialised in feeding solely on ants and termites
Sea Cow / Dugong
Dugongs are cousins of manatees and share a similar plump appearance, but have a dolphin fluke-like tail. And unlike manatees, which use freshwater areas, the dugong is strictly a marine mammal. Commonly known as “sea cows,” dugongs graze peacefully on sea grasses in shallow coastal waters of the Indian and western Pacific Oceans.
There are just 250 dugongs in the Indian seas, according to a study by Zoological Survey of India in 2013. Conservation in other places like Australia has seen their population crossing 85,000. In the Gulf of Mannar, the dugong population ranged between 77 and 158, said the survey. In Andamans, there could be 41 to 81 dugongs, and in the Gulf of Kutch, some 10 to 15, said ZSI director K Venkataraman.
The species has been categorized in the red list of the International Union for Conservation of Natural Flora and Fauna (IUCN) and the Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species (CITES) had classified it under Appendix I, implying that the mammal is under threat. They are poached for their meat. Feeding on sea grass, dugongs are found in sea grass beds, sheltered waters, lagoons and bays. Fourteen sea grass species are found in the marine waters in the country of which 13 are found in the Gulf of Mannar and Palk Bay areas. As dugongs had been brought under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, the punishment for poaching is imprisonment, but seldom is anyone punished.
Threat evaluation, putting an end to illegal and incidental captures, reducing marine pollution through serious monitoring are some of the measures researchers suggest to protect dugongs from extinction. CAMPA has announced 4 crore each for conserving five species including dugongs, sangai deer, Gangetic dolphins, wild water buffalo and the great Indian bustard.
Ganges River Dolphin
The Ganges River dolphin or Susu, lives in one of the most densely populated regions of the world. One of the main threats to the species is loss of habitat due in large part to the creation of dams and irrigation projects.
This dolphin is among the four “obligate” freshwater dolphins – the other three are the baiji now likely extinct from the Yangtze river in China, the bhulan of the Indus in Pakistan and the boto of the Amazon River in Latin America. Although there are several species of marine dolphins whose ranges include some freshwater habitats, these four species live only in rivers and lakes.
The species is found exclusively in freshwater habitat. In Nepal, it inhabits clear water and rapids. In Bangladesh and India, individuals live in rivers that flow slowly through the plains. The Ganges River dolphin favours deep pools, eddy counter-currents located downstream of the convergence of rivers and of sharp meanders, and upstream and downstream of mid-channel islands. It shares its habitat with crocodiles, freshwater turtles and wetland birds, many of which are fish eaters and are potential competitors with dolphins.
Extensive modifications of this species’ habitat have reduced its once abundant population throughout its range. The distribution in the Ganges has diminished by approximately 100 km (62 miles) since the 19th century, with hundreds of kilometres of tributary habitat lost to irrigation barrages. There has been a concomitant reduction in water flow.
The survival of the Ganges River dolphin is threatened by unintentional killing through entanglement in fishing gear; directed harvest for dolphin oil, which is used as a fish attractant and for medicinal purposes; water development projects (e.g. water extraction and the construction of barrages, high dams, and embankments); industrial waste and pesticides; municipal sewage discharge and noise from vessel traffic; and overexploitation of prey, mainly due to the widespread use of non-selective fishing gear.
More than 50 dams and irrigation-related projects have had an adverse impact on the habitat of this species. These projects result in major changes in the flow, sediment load, and water quality of rivers, which affects the quality of waters downstream.
As a result, there has been a serious decrease in fish production, while the extraction of river water and siltation from deforestation are also degrading the species’ habitat. In some cases, habitat alterations have resulted in the genetic isolation of dolphin populations.
India’s National Aquatic Animal
The decision to declare the Ganges river dolphin as India’s national aquatic animal was taken in 2009, during the first meeting of the newly-constituted National Ganga River Basin Authority.
India’s First Dolphin Community Reserve
The West Bengal government decided to establish India’s first Dolphin Community Reserve in the state at between Malda and Sundarbans in 2015.
The Himalayan Ibex (Capra sibirica hemalayanus) is regarded as a subspecies of the Siberian Ibex (Capra sibirica). They are found in the western Himalaya in Pakistan and India, usually at elevations of 3800m and higher.
An adult ibex weighs about 90 kgs, and stands around 40 inches tall, with huge curved horns. The horns have notches on the front, and grow each year. Their coat is thick and woolly in winter, and shed in early summer. Colour ranges from pale brown to dark brown, with a darker dorsal stripe. They are usually found in small herds, and sometimes around 50 together. They normally feed on grass, moss and small shrubs. In winter, they come down to lower elevations in search of food as the mountains get covered in snow. In summer they move back upward as the snow melts.
A study indicates that domestic goat / sheep impose serious resource limitations on Himalayan Ibex and exclude them from certain pastures. Such multiple-use is not compatible with wild herbivore conservation in the cold deserts of the Trans-Himalaya like in the case of Spiti valley. The study urged urgent review of this human / livestock dependency on fast-depleting natural resources and the adoption of a trans-disciplinary conservation approach where human and ecological systems are seen in unison.
The Himalayan tahr is a relative of the wild goat and is specially adapted to life on the rugged mountain slopes of the Himalayas, extending from the montane to alpine zones It has a dense, reddish to dark brown woolly coat with a thick undercoat, keeping it warm in the winter. In the spring, as temperatures rise, it loses much of its coat, and becomes lighter in colour. The hooves are also well adapted, making tahr excellent
Nilgiri tahrs are stocky goats with short, coarse fur and a bristly mane. Males are larger than the females, and have a darker colour when mature. Both sexes have curved horns, which are larger in the males, reaching up to 40 cm for males and 30 cm for females. Adult males weigh 80-100 kg and stand about 100cm tall at the shoulder. Adult males develop a light grey area or “saddle” on their backs and are hence called “saddlebacks”.
The Nilgiri tahr symbolizes the conflicts inherent in conservation of threatened fauna and their habitat. Their number totals around 2200-2500 individuals in the wild. Nilgiri tahrs exist only in small, isolated populations due to extreme habitat fragmentation and illegal hunting. They are, as a result, vulnerable to local extinction. The reasons for the decline of tahr populations have not been fully understood. Despite several studies over the years, there are only rough estimations of Nilgiri tahr populations. The species has always been under severe stress on account of the construction of numerous hydroelectric projects, timber felling and monoculture plantation of eucalyptus and wattles. All these development activities, especially the plantation activities affect the heart of the tahr habitat, which are the grasslands – sholas.
The Himalayan Ibex male is easily told apart from other caprids by his characteristic horn and beard. Female are grey brown in colour with less distinct white underpants, have thin parallel horns and dark markings on their legs. Both sexes have a dark dorsal stripe down the length of their back and short dark furry tails.
The Ibex does not always migrate to lower heights in winter and mostly stays at fairly high altitude using wind blown ridges. Unlike other caprids, the Ibex is known to dig crates through snow to access forage in winter
The markhor is an endangered species of wild goatthat is natively found in the mountainous regions of western and central and Asia. The markhor is thought to have been named using the Persian word for snake, either because of the large coiled horns of the markhor or due to it’s ability to kill snakes in the wild, although the exact reason is unknown.
The markhor is found in northeastern Afghanistan, Gilgit-Baltistan, Hunza-Nagar Valley, northern and central Pakistan and the disputed territory of Kashmir, southern Tajikistan and southern Uzbekistan. The markhor is most commonly found inhabiting the high-altitude monsoon forests that litter these areas.
The markhor is a very distinctive species of wild goat, easily identified by it’s long, white winter hair and the enormous spiralled horns that can grow to more than 1.5 meters in length on the males. The horns of the females are, although still large for goats, generally less than 50cm in length.
The markhor is considered to be an endangered species with less than 2,500 individuals thought to be left in a few remote areas of the Asian mountains. The decline in markhor population numbers in mainly due to deforestation resulting in the loss of their native habitats.
Kiang / Tibetan Wild Ass.
The Kiang has a reddish brown coat that darkens in color during the winter months. The Kiang’s legs, undersides, the insides of the ears, and the border around the Kiang’s grey muzzle are white. The Kiang’s short mane, long, tufted tail, and the tips of the Kiang’s short ears are dark brown. The Kiang also has a dark dorsal stripe, which extends from its mane to its tail. The Kiang’s summer coat is short, sparse, and sleek in comparison to its longer, thicker winter coat.
The Kiang is the largest of the wild asses. The Kiang actually resembles a horse more than it does an ass, due to its small ears and long tail. The Kiang has a body length of approximately 210 centimetres (seven feet), a tail length of 50 centimetres (50 inches), and a shoulder height of 140 centimetres (4.6 feet). The Kiang weighs about 250 to 400 kilograms (550 to 880 pounds). During August and September, the only months when the Kiang’s food sources are abundant, the Kiang may gain up to 45 kilograms (88 to 100 pounds) in weight.
Threats to Survival
Much of the northern part of the Kiang’s habitat has been degraded or lost entirely due to the establishment of significant mining and oil exploration operations in this region, and the incursion of the large populations needed to cater to the mines and the processing of minerals.
Pastoralists and their livestock have encroached upon other areas of the Kiang’s habitat. These livestock compete with the Kiang for water and forage and may carry diseases. Furthermore, because more and more pastoralists are “sedentary”, rather than nomadic, overgrazing is becoming a problem, and wild animals, such as the Kiang, are being fenced out of their traditional foraging areas.
Intensifying the Kiang’s troubles, pastoralists, miners, oil workers, and others hunt the Kiang for food. New and improved roads provide easier access to previously isolated areas of the Kiang’s habitat range. The increased military presence on the border between Ladakh and Tibet that bisects the Chang Tang may also pose a threat to the Kiang.
Indian Wild Ass
The wild ass, locally known as ghudkhar and found only in the Little Rann of Kutch in Gujarat in India, has been classified as an endangered animal. The Red List of International Union For Conservation of Nature (IUCN) released recently moved the wild ass from the ‘vulnerable’ to ‘endangered’ category, indicating the need for heightened protection measures.
The IUCN added that the population of the Asiatic wild ass has declined by an alarming 52% in the past 16 years. In Gujarat, there are 4,451 wild asses as per the 2014 census. In 2004, their number was 3,863.
- Are significantly larger than donkeys; are 200-290 kg in size and 2.1-2.5 m in head-body length.
- Males are larger than females.
- Coat is sandy, and varies from reddish gray, fawn to pale chestnut.
- The khuur, along with the other subspecies of the Onager, is the most horse-like of the wild ass species.
- It is arguably the fastest Indian animal, and can attain a top speed of 70-80 kmph.
- Stallions live singly or in small, territorial groups, while large family groups contain mares, foals and juveniles.
- Mating occurs during rainy season and stallions battle over mares.
- It was once found in Pakistan as far west as Baluchistan, but it has become regionally extinct there due to overhunting and habitat destruction.
Lion-tailed Macaque (Macaca silenus)
Less than 4000 of these survive today making it one of the most endangered primates in the world. Since these primates have evolved in the rainforests, they have very simple stomachs which can easily digest fruits, seeds and insects. This adaptation has helped them be a habitat specialist of the tropical rainforest, where these are available throughout the year.
The lion-tailed macaque, one of India’s endangered mascot species, is no longer on ‘The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates’ list, after the international body compiling it determined that the State governments had acted positively to protect it.
The habitat of the lion-tailed macaque continues to be fragmented though it is getting positive attention in the Western Ghats. Across India, the growing problem is one of conflicts among langurs, macaques and humans, aggravated by lack of understanding of primate behaviour. India’s primates are classified as least concern on the scale of threat assessment, but these species are declining.
The Nilgiri langur has a glossy, dark brown coat and long, thick golden to brown fur on the head. The rump and the start of the tail are highlighted with white, and females have white areas on their inner thighs, obvious from a week old. At birth, the young have pale pink skin and dark red fur, with full adult colouration being attained at three months
Gee’s Golden Langur
The golden langur is a particularly attractive leaf-eating monkey found in northeastern India and Bhutan. As its name suggests, the coat is a beautiful golden to creamy white, gaining a more reddish tinge in winter. Infants are orange-brown to grey when newborn. Very little is known about these elusive monkeys. Groups of between 2 and 12 individuals have been observed, and these are normally made up of one or two mature males with a number of females and their offspring. Active during the day, these monkeys are particularly arboreal, only rarely alighting on the ground.
After a gestation period of around 6 months, females will give birth to a single young; male offspring tend to disperse from their natal group. Groups of golden langurs are more active in the morning and evening, resting during the heat of midday. These monkeys feed predominantly on leaves but will also eat fruit and seeds. The mating season is in January and February, and a single offspring is born in July or August.
Predation by other animals is negligible, most likely due to the highly arboreal lifestyle of golden langurs. Their numbers are mainly threatened by humans through fragmentation and the eventual degradation of their habitats.
Found in the north- eastern regions, their diet comprises mainly of fruits, but they sometimes also consume leaves, shoots and flowers. Males and females are of similar size, but can be differentiated easily by the coloration of their dense hair. Males are black with a distinctive white brow, while females are copper-tan with dark brown hair on the sides of their face, and a clear central parting in the head hair. They form monogamous pairs that remain together for years, though mating outside the pair has been noticed in some individuals. Hoolocks are famous for their emotive call that echoes across long distances in the forest, and is used by individuals to attract mates. Females give birth to one offspring every 2-3 years, and it remains within the family group for 7-10 years.
Populations of western hoolock gibbons have declined by almost 90% over the last 30 years, and it is now considered to be one of the most endangered 25 primate species in the world. In India, it is listed on Schedule 1 of the Indian (Wildlife) Protection Act 1972. Enhancing protection for the species, the Government of Assam upgraded the status of the Hoollongapar Reserve Forest in the Jorhat District of Assam to a Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary in 1997, making this the first Protected Area ever named after a primate species. WWF-India works in the state of Assam and Arunachal in north-east India with a holistic conservation approach towards protecting flagship species like tigers, rhinos, and elephants. The hoolock benefits indirectly from WWF-India’s conservation initiatives in its range.