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Survey India's Wildlife
Picture this: It's early morning in a lush forest in Kanha National Park or Bandhavgarh National Park. You're in an open jeep, riding along rutted dirt roads, enjoying the fresh morning air and the way the sun slants through the canopy.
A troop of large, gray langurs swings by, jumping through the air with amazing agility. The jeep rounds a bend and you see a small herd of chital, or spotted deer. The graceful animals raise their heads and stand in alertness, just for a moment, as you snap a photo.
Then, a call comes from another jeep further ahead. "Tiger!" This one word is enough to electrify the forest. Your hair stands on end as you strain to catch sight of the elusive cat, hoping to be one of the lucky few who ever get to see a tiger in the wild.
Tiger Conservation in India
India is home to more than half of the world's wild tiger population. The big cat is India's national animal symbol and the focus for tiger tourism.
But it is also an endangered species, managed under the watchful eye of the National Tiger Conservation Authority of India (formerly known as Project Tiger). Under the leadership of the NTCA, India has taken steps to protect the tiger through the creation of tiger reserves, corridor protection, anti-poacher legislation and awareness campaigns.
There are currently about 47 tiger reserves in India, and Kanha and Bandhavgarh are considered two of the best places to spot a tiger in the wild. It is estimated there are currently about 1,706 wild tigers in India – a 20% increase from the 2006 census, which showed 1,411.
But of course the tiger is not the only endemic wildlife of India. The subcontinent is extremely rich, containing many different climates and habitat zones, from the highest mountains in the world to one of the largest deserts, from tropical rainforests to the world's largest river delta, and much more. These terrains host an incredibly diverse array of flora and fauna.
India is heaven for birdwatchers. Of the world's 8,650 species of birds, more than 1,300 can be seen in India. Plus, at least 100 more species migrate to India annually, especially in winter. The colorful kingfisher, elegant egret and fantastic flycatcher are just a few of the beautiful birds that can easily be spotted in India.
Perhaps most thrilling is to see the country's state bird, the peacock, in full feather, or flying low over the desert at sunset. It is a particularly exciting sight to see such a magnificent bird wandering freely in cities, parks and among the pink deserts and golden forts of Rajasthan.
They’re so ubiquitous, visitors become accustomed to the peacock’s screechy cry as part of the fantastic wild and cultural landscape of India.
The Asian elephant is smaller than the African variety, with smaller ears and a larger trunk. Like the cow, the elephant is considered sacred in India.
One of India's most beloved gods, Ganesh, is elephant-headed, and elephants are used in religious rituals throughout India. In Jaipur, there is an Elephant Festival held each year on Holi, and in Kerala a spring festival called Thrissur Pooram features an astonishing display of elephants decorated with gold trappings.
It is exciting to see elephants lumbering down the road in India, or painted and decorated. However, the Asian elephant has been listed as endangered since 1986, and they are often kept in inhumane conditions, working in construction or tourism, or chained within enclosures to serve as temple elephants.
In places like Jaipur and some of the national parks, visitors are given the opportunity to ride elephants, but it's worthwhile asking yourself whether riding an elephant is ethical. Many animal activists and sustainable tourism enthusiasts do not think so, and are encouraging operators to end this practice.
Another one of the big cats found in India, the leopard roams all over the subcontinent in large numbers. It’s extremely good at adapting to a wide variety of habitats, and is a skillful and stealthy hunter. Though populous, leopards are highly elusive and hard to spot without an experienced guide. Both Kanha and Bandhavgarh National Parks are great places to see them in the wild. Leopards – especially the mysterious and rarely-seen snow leopards – feature in many local myths and stories.
Visiting wild animals in well-managed national parks under the guidance of licensed guides can help build India’s sustainable tourism infrastructure. It also helps raise awareness about the threats facing endangered animals, contributes to local economies and, of course, gives visitors incredible memories of the wildlife of India that will last a lifetime.
How to Go
International Expeditions offers travel to India focusing on exploration of the cultural highlights while being immersed in the nature of multiple national parks. Check out IE's incredible Explorer's India tours and India Wildlife adventure to start planning your adventure.