India is a land of many languages, religions, a rich culture, flavorful spices, and a dazzling spectrum of colors. Amidst all this, the biodiversity of this place is often neglected, but we’re here to let you know what everyone’s missing out on. There is an abundance of incredible animals in India, many of which are native to the country. There is a myriad of ecosystems, all of which are favorable for the survival of these species.
If we had to count the numbers, India has a jaw-dropping status –over 2,000 kinds of birds, about 500 mammals, and more than 30,000 insects.
On top of that, there’s a significant number of amphibians and reptiles inhabiting the land. Impressive? Yes, would be an understatement.
Animals in India
About 21% of the country is covered with forests, providing home to the flora and fauna. In addition to that, there are roughly 500 wildlife sanctuaries and 120 national parks scattered throughout the country to protect these creatures from pesky poachers. Take a look at this list of some of the most celebrated animals of India’s wildlife.
1. Bengal Tiger
No matter where you’re from, you’re bound to have heard the name of the Royal Bengal Tiger at least once in your life. With a name fit for the reputation, this majestic beast is native to the Indian subcontinent.
The Bengal Tiger is only second to the Siberian tiger in wild cat species size and considered to be a valuable member of the world’s charismatic megafauna – large animals that are extremely popular or have a meaningful symbolic value.
The Bengal tiger’s coat can be a yellow to light orange color, with dark brown or black stripes across its body. This tiger has exceptionally strong teeth; the canines being the largest in the entire animal kingdom.
Although these are the most dominant cats in Asia, numbers had dwindled in the past few decades – marking them as “Endangered” on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List.
However, a 2018 census has shown a positive increase. The Bengal tiger population in India can be assumed to be around 2,300, if not more.
2. Asian Elephant
Asiatic Elephants or Indian elephants are the last living members of the Elephas genus, which automatically puts all eyes on them.
These gentle giants are found in the Indian subcontinent, mainly in South India where they can be seen grazing on grasslands, semi-evergreen, or evergreen forests. They can also be spotted throughout forests landscaping across Southeast Asia.
Asian elephants are the largest land animals in Asia, coming in slightly smaller than African Bush elephants. On average, the males can be up to nine feet tall at the shoulders, while the females are a little shy of eight feet. This species has the highest body point on the head. Considered to be megaherbivores, Asian elephants can consume about 300 pounds of foliage per day.
Unfortunately, these beautiful animals are on the brink of extinction. They have been marked endangered by IUCN since the late ‘80s. The population has reduced about 50% in the past six to seven decades. Loss and fragmentation of habitat plus human cruelty exhibited through hunting them for ivory have caused their numbers to rapidly decline.
3. Asiatic Lion
Asiatic lion, Indian lion, Persian lion – know by many names, this ferocious wildcat is a fine addition to the animals in India. They are one of the five big cats that inhabit India.
The for on these lions can be a multiple of shades but the base colors are more or less the same – ruddy, buffish or sandy grey, with a nice silver sheen under specific lights. Male Asiatic lions have a significantly less developed mane in comparison to African lions. They’re also smaller in size than the African cats, measuring at about 1.98 m, but some exceptionally larger lions can grow an incredible 2.92 m.
The habitat sizes and occupancy area of these lions are too small, which accounts for their reduced population. Majority of the lions that still exist live in the Gir National Park of Gujarat. IUCN has listed them as endangered.
A little good news – although the lion census of 2020 was halted due to pandemic, it’s assumed that there are now about 674 Indian lions roaming the lands, almost a 29% increase since the 2015 reports.
4. Indian Rhinoceros
The Indian Rhinoceros is a native animal to the Indian subcontinent. Otherwise known as the great Indian rhinoceros, or great one-horned rhino, these animals will amaze you with their massive size and the thick horn.
The thick skin is a grey-brown color with pinkish folds across. Considering terrestrial mammals in Asia, the Indian Rhinoceros is second in size, the first being the Asian Elephant. The males can average to be an impressive 4,850 pounds and the females are just a tad bit lighter – standing at 3,530 pounds on average.
The largest among these already gigantic animals could be about 8,820 pounds. Want to talk about size? The white rhino is the largest in the rhino family, and the Indian rhino is second. The horns on these animals can grow up to 25 cm, although the recorded largest is 36 cm.
Poached for their horns and skin, Indian Rhinoceros population has been decreasing over the year. IUCN marks them as vulnerable – not exactly on the edge of extinction, but if they’re not protected, they soon will be.
5. Indian Leopard
Clever, powerful, and a treat to the eyes – the Indian leopard is well-known for being exceptional climbers and swimmers. When talking about the big cats amidst the animals in India, the Asiatic leopard might not take the crown for the largest, but they certainly pack a punch with their muscle strength and strikingly beautiful fur.
These leopards have strong built legs, a long tail, greyish-yellow eyes, and a wide muzzle. The coat is a golden or yellowish-brown to pale brown color with distinct spots and rosettes that fade out towards the pale underbelly and the inner parts of the legs. The arrangement of these rosettes are unique to each tiger, which is another interesting fact about them. The Indian leopard can be found in areas of Nepal and Bhutan in addition to India.
Unlike the other big cat on the list, this one hasn’t been marked endangered just yet, but is still in the vulnerable category. Loss, degradation, and fragmentation of living area have made their numbers decline sharply over time.
6. Sloth Bear
The sloth bear may not look the part, but these are one of the most aggressive bears to exist – the ones that attack humans more commonly. In contrast to that, these creatures actually have a taste for insects and make a meal out of termites that they find through their acute sense of smell.
These animals can be found in India, lowlands in south of Nepal, and Sri Lanka. Adults will travel in pairs, and both the males and females are noticed to be very gentle with the young ones. Regardless of age, these animals are excellent climbers.
The fur is shiny dark brown to black. The paws are relatively larger in comparison to its entire size, and are paired with large claws shaped like sickles. These are their weapons against predators as they’re extremely sharp and can grow up to 10 cm in length!
IUCN has labeled Asian sloth bears as “vulnerable” on their Red List – owing to the loss and degradation of habitat. Sloth bears were once captured and tamed, but after a long struggle, the last dancing bear of India was set free in 2009.
The Indian peafowl, commonly addressed as the blue peafowl, or just “peacocks” within the locals, is one of the two species of peacocks extant. Native to the Indian subcontinent, these creatures have been brought to other parts of the world for their stunning features and bright, colorful feathers.
Male peacocks have an extravagant plumage with an elaborate pattern of iridescent colors. Apart from the typical wild-blue shade that they appear in, there is a myriad of variations in color and arrangement that they come in. Occasionally, albino peafowls can be spotted – ones with pure white plumage.
A fully developed train can range from 195 to 225 cm. Their diet primarily consists of berries and grains, but they won’t shy away from fighting with a snake, rodent or lizard to make it their meal.
Their amazing beauty has captivated the eyes of humans for a long time, and this has resulted in excessive hunting and killing for sport. On the IUCN Red List, peacocks have been marked as endangered.
8. Wild Water Buffalo
With ancestors like the Water Buffalo, you could bet that the Wild Water Buffalo would be a force to be reckoned with. Animals in India come in many sizes and shapes, but this one stands out with its signature curved horns.
These buffaloes also go by the name Asian buffaloes, or Asiatic buffaloes, and are native to the Indian subcontinent as well as Southeast Asia. With an impressive size of 240 to 300 cm from head-to-body measurement, and another 60 to 100 cm for its tail, these animals are not the ones to come down easily to any predator.
In addition to that, both sexes have a pair of strong, sharp horns on their head that can spread widely up to a staggering 2 meters! That makes it the largest horns out of any living bovine.
The population of these large animals has reduced by 50% in the last few generations, earning it an endangered mark on the IUCN Red List. Interbreeding, loss of habitat, as well as some diseases and parasites have caused their numbers to drop rapidly. According to a census, there are only 4,000 left in the wild, majority protected in sanctuaries.
9. Indian Bison – Gaur
The Indian Bison – also going by the name Gaur, is the biggest living bovine in the world, and one of the brawniest ones at that. These are also the largest species within the wild cattle. Mostly native to South and Southeast Asia, a large portion of these bison have made Indian grasslands their home.
Gaurs are powerful and muscular bovines. Pair that up with their average horn length of 60 to 115 cm, even the largest predators would think twice about making a meal out of them.
There’s a very distinct muscular hump just behind its shoulders, and a well-grown gaur will awe you with its build. Indian male gaurs average about 1,850 pounds, and the females approximately 1,500 pounds. In contrast to wild water buffaloes, gaurs are much less aggressive towards humans.
Gaur population has been going down for years. Uncontrolled hunting, diminishing of habitable lands has driven these gentle creatures to the verge of extinction. With about 22,000 animals recorded, they have been listed as vulnerable on IUCN Red List. Thankfully, in protected areas, their number is going up and reaching a stable count.
10. Nilgai – Blue Bull
The Blue Bull – known locally as the Nilgai, is the largest antelope in all of Asia. They’re seen in large numbers in northern regions of the Indian subcontinent, and rank first among the most commonly spotted wild animals in India. You can easily notice a blue bull when you’re looking out into the great Indian grasslands, or low hills.
The nilgai has some pretty splendid measurements – standing in at 1 to 1.5 meters at the shoulders, and 220 to 635 pounds in weight. It’s diurnal – meaning it’s mainly active during the day. Only the males have horns, about 15 to 24 cm in length.
This animal has been linked with Indian culture for a long time, going back to the Vedic timeline (1500 – 500 BC)! Hindus, the followers of the dominant religion in India associate the Nilgai with the cow – an animal that is revered in Hinduism, and considers both these animals as sacred.
IUCN Red List marks these creatures as “Least Concerned” – the first out of all animals mentioned before. Their population stands strong at a million.
India is a biodiversity hotspot – housing some of the rarest species of animals in the world. When talking about all the sides of the multifaceted country, wildlife is one thing that needs to be mentioned more. Unfortunately, a lion’s share of these uncommon species is endangered in these regions.
On the bright side, locals and the whole world, in fact, are starting to become more aware of the necessity of these animals, so we can hope there will be some positive changes to the population of many depleting species.