Indian Mammals

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Asiatic lion (Panthera leo persica)
Once widely distributed from northern Greece eastwards through Syria, Iraq and Iran to central India, the Asiatic lion was exterminated over most of its range with the advent of firearms in the 19th century. The last remaining population is found in the Gir sanctuary of Gujarat, where it survived under the patronage of the Nawab of Junagadh, and now protected under law. One of seven subspecies of the lion two of which are already extinct – the Asiatic lion inhabits teak forest, scrub and grassland. It lives in social groups (called., prides) and cooperatively hunts large mammals e.g. nilgai, sambar, chital, and wild pig. At one time the Gir forest suffered heavily from overgrazing by domestic cattle, reducing natural ungulate populations and forcing the lions to turn to livestock predation. Plans have been proposed to create a second lion reserve, both to relieve the pressure on the Gir Sanctuary and to lessen the risks of a catastrophe wiping out a single population.

Tiger (Panthera tigris)
Within the past century the tiger occurred from eastern Turkey and the Caspian Sea across Central Asia to the sea of Okhotsk, and south through the Indian subcontinent to Southeast Asia, Sumatra, Java and Bali. It is adapted to a wide range of habitats, from tropical rainforest, evergreen forest and mangrove swamp to grassland, savanna and rocky country. The largest species of cat, the tiger is usually solitary and preys mainly on large mammals such as pigs, deer, antelope, buffalo, gaur and on occasion, humans. Tigers can swim long distances. Male territories overlap those of several females. The tiger now persists only in isolated pockets of its former range. Its decline has been caused by habitat loss, mainly to agriculture, logging, and malaria eradication programmes; overhunting (both legal and illegal) for sport, for skins, and for carcasses which are highly sought after for use in Asian traditional medicines; elimination of natural prey; and deliberate eradication programmes and persecution for fear of attacks on humans and domestic livestock – which have tended to increase as numbers of wild prey have dwindled. Of the eight subspecies of tiger, three (the Caspian tiger, the Bali tiger and the Javan tiger) are extinct and the remaining five are endangered. The Indian tiger is much better placed now thanks to Project Tiger, but still remains endangered and threatened by poachers. The tiger is protected by law in most range countries except Myanmar.

Snow leopard or ounce (Uncia uncia)
The snow leopard is found in the high altitude mountain ranges of Central Asia from Afghanistan, Pakistan and the former Soviet Union in the west through northern India, Nepal and Bhutan to Mongolia and China. In summer it inhabits the arid alpine meadow region between the tree-line and permanent snow at elevations from 2,700 to 6,000 m, while in winter it may follow its prey down into the forests below 1,800 m. The snow leopard is solitary, crepuscular, and preys on mountain ungulates (hoofed animals) such as markhor, ibex, bharal and tahr, domestic stock, and smaller mammals such as hares and marmots. It is believed to be in decline in most regions due to uncontrolled hunting; increased use of alpine pastures by people and their livestock; and a reduction in natural prey. Although the snow leopard (around 500 being left in India) is legally protected, enforcement is difficult in the remote terrain it inhabits.

Dhole or Indian wild dog (Cuon alpinus)
The dhole, red dog, or Indian wild dog is a fairly large (10-20 kg) pack-living canid found in thick scrub jungles and dense forests up to 3,000 m. The dhole preys mainly on medium-sized ungulates e.g. chital, wild boar and wild sheep, but rodents, reptiles, insects and berries are also devoured. It is a ferocious hunter. Its red coat varies in shade with the season and the localities. The population is in steep decline in most parts of India due to disease (virulent canine distemper and rabies) exacerbated by contact with domestic dogs; deforestation; depletion of natural prey; and poisoning by herders. Large sub-populations exist in protected areas in India, but populations outside are unlikely to survive.

Sloth bear (Melursus ursinus)
The sloth bear has long dark fur highlighted with white on the muzzle, the tips of the paws and in a V-shaped breast patch. It is nocturnal except in remote areas when it may be active on cooler days. At night it searches for fruits and insects and also takes carrion. It is found throughout forested areas south of the Himalayas, in India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan. It predominantly inhabits low elevations, its optimum habitat being the dry deciduous forests of central India. The species was common in most forested areas of India till the 1950s. Its eyesight and sense of hearing are poor, but its sense of smell is acute. It has a low reproductive and recruitment rate in the wild, and is therefore extremely vulnerable to hunting. Bear species are either killed for their gall bladder, or are used in street exhibitions.

The smallest bear in the world, an adult male Malayan sun bear is about 4 ft tall when standing on its hind legs and can weigh up to 64 kg. Despite its small size, the sun bear can be very dangerous. Named for the golden crescent, or "U" shaped golden patch on their chest, the sun bear is otherwise all black with smooth, short fur. It is increasingly a rare residents in southern China, Myanmar, Malaysia, Sumatra, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Borneo. The Malayan sun bear is a skillful climbers, aided by long sickle-shaped claws on all four feet. The extremely long claws — up to six inches — allow it to dig for honey, which its licks up using its long tongues. The bear is omnivorous. Its diet also includes fruits, insects, small mammals, and birds. The sun bear sometimes will damage coconut palm, banana, and cocoa plantations through foraging. It usually is a nocturnal creature. Smell is the sun bear's most important sense and its eyesight is not very good.

Common mongoose (Herpestes edwardsi)
The common mongoose has a tawny yellowish-grey look with a stripe on the side of its neck. It preys on snakes, and is even known to attack a venomous one like the cobra. Its plus point is said to be its agility. It bristles its hair when excited and causes the snake to strike short of its body.

Hanuman langur (Semnopithecus entellus)
Commonly seen both in cities and villages, and forests, it is more arboreal than macaques. It is extremely agile on treetops and lives in peaceful, relaxed and stable groups of around 20. It mixes freely with macaques during feeding time, but goes its own way after dusk. Its predator is the leopard (Panthera pardus).

Bonnet macaque (Macaca radiata)
This long-tailed macaque's bonnet does not quite cover its forehead, and is more arboreal than the other macaques. Its tail is longer than its head and body together. They move in troops of 20-30 controlled by a group of highly dominant males. These pale-faced primates are found primarily in Peninsular India.

Hoolock gibbon (Bunopithecus hoolock)
The only ape found in India, it stands erect at a little less than 90 cm. It is found in the hilly forests of the Northeast. Each family lives separately, and they seldom form groups of more than six. Each family hunts within its own territory. Males are known to be content with single mates, and mothers are caring of their babies.

Golden langur (Trachypithecus geei)
Usually found in troops of less than ten, its coat of a uniform deep cream colour appears golden in bright sunshine. Its tail is slightly tasselled, and the hair on the lanks is slightly longer and darker.

Gaur or Indian bison (Bos gaurus)
The largest living bovine, the subspecies (Bos gaurus gaurus) found in India and Nepal is one of three species of the animal. The gaur is gregarious but shy. The group structure is fluid and dynamic, which may be in the range of 2-16 animals, or more than 20 in rare cases. A large group usually consists of cows and few calves, 1-2 adult bulls, and subadults. Younger bulls may sometime join to form a bachelor herd. Old males are generally solitary in nature and only join the herds during the rut. Gaur prefers to browse in dry season and predominantly graze in the monsoon.

Spotted deer or chital (Axis axis)
The spotted deer is among the most widely distributed and common of the large wild mammals of the subcontinent. Its watchful and alert behaviour, seeking safety in numbers, coupled with a high rate of production and ecological adaptability, has enabled it to attain its current safe status. A daily drink or two is essential and it is never found too far away from water. It is mostly seen in large herds of 30-50 females and a few stags. But, it is not uncommon to see large herds of bachelors numbering in grasslands. Despite being one of the favourite prey species of predators such as tigers and leopards and only giving birth to a single fawn at a time, its population is abundant.

Blackbuck or Indian antelope (Antelope cervicapra)
The blackbuck is known for its colour combination and elegance, the matching proportions of its spiral horn and length to its body size. The male in its chocolateblack rutting pelage, strutting stiff-legged, with face upraised and horns swept back, is one such. Males have cork screw type of horns which develop in the second year. The full number of spirals grows by third year. Females, usually, do not have horns. The blackbuck was earlier seen all over India except the Northeast. Now it is found in South India, Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat and central India. It does not live in dense forests but prefers open plains. Earlier, these antelopes lived in large herds of 500 animals and so was restricted to open plains. Now, these are rarely seen in herds even of 20 members. These can run at more than 40 km/hr for long distances, and has a sharp eyesight.

Red panda (Ailurus fulgens) or lesser panda
The red panda is medium-sized bear-like mammal (the average head-tail body length is 510- 635 mm with a thickrusty to deep chestnut coloured coat. The muzzle, eye patches and the fronts of the large pointed ears are white and there are broad white cheek patches. The tail is long and bushy with broad brown and ginger rings. The nose is black. It walks like a bear with forepaws pointed inwards. It has long white whiskers and an almost cat-like face. The claws are sharp and partly retractable. The broad teeth and strong jaw muscles, an adaptation to chewing bamboo, have resulted in a relatively large head. The lesser panda, which does not weight more than 6.2 kg, tolerates colder temperatures than does the giant panda. It rests and shelters in trees and rock crevasses. It is active between dusk and dawn, sleeping in trees during the day. The adults are generally solitary, but sometimes travel in pairs or small family groups. Since the red panda has the digestive system of a carnivore it cannot digest wood fibre. It therefore has to eat large amounts of bamboo every day in order to survive.

Asian elephant (Elephas maximas)
The Asian (or Indian) elephant is the largest terrestrial mammal in Asia, with a maximum shoulder height of 3.2 m. It is smaller than the African elephant (Loxodonta africana), with relatively smaller ears, and the head (not the shoulder) is the highest part of the body. Both elephants belong to the same order, Proboscidea, and family, Elephantidae, but separate genera. The Asian elephant has a single "finger" on the upper lip of the trunk, while the African elephant has a second on the lower tip. Only some male Asian elephants carry tusks; females have small tushes, which seldom show. But a significant number of adult males are tuskless, and the percentage of males carrying ivory varies by region (possibly reflecting the intensity of past ivory hunting), from only about 5 per cent in Sri Lanka to 90 per cent in south India. The Asian elephant is primarily a forest animal preferring a forested environment. It is found through a wide variety of forest types; distribution is restricted by both the need for daily access to water, and by a likeness for feeding on grass. It tends to avoid large areas of closed-canopy forest. More than two thirds of the day it spends feeding on grasses, but large amounts of tree bark, roots, leaves and small stems are also eaten. Sexual maturity is reached at about 10 years of age, though males become sexually active much later. Usually, a single calf is born every 4-5 years after a gestation period of 22 months. Females can remain fertile till the ripe age of 55-60 years. Elephant society is matriarchal. The Asian elephant lives in herds based on breeding groups of 3-10 extending up to 40, mainly females and young. Herds form part of larger related groupings called clans. Mature males live alone or in small groups and have non permanent ties with the females. Different herds usually do not mix, but stray females and young males sometimes migrate from one herd to another. When fodder is scarce, large herds tend to break up into small parties and reunite under favourable conditions. It has a poor eyesight, but keen sense of smell and sound. The elephant has been an integral part of the culture, religion and economy of the Asian peoples for at least 4000 years. It is a keystone biological species in the tropical forests of Asia. It is used throughout Southeast Asia as a domestic animal, and most captive elephants are trained as working animals. The ability to work in rugged country and to remove individual trees makes it valuable for forestry operations. An elephant is a true indicator of a habitat. What is good food for it is also food enough for the sambar (Cervus unicolor), the spotted deer or chital (Axis axis), and the barking deer (Muntiacus muntjak). Predators like the tiger (Panthera tigris) and the leopard or panther (Panthera pardus) do not lack far behind. The law of the jungle rules.

Greate one-horned rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis)
The greater one-horned or Indian rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis) is one of the five species of rhinos found in the world. The black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) and the white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum) are found in Africa, while the lesser one-horned or Javan rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus) and the Asian two-horned or Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) are found elsewhere in Asia. Both these Asian rhinos were once found in India — both became extinct in the early part of the 20th century. The Indian rhino was once found from Pakistan (as indicated by archaeological excavations in Mohenjodaro) all the way through India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Myanmar. Today, only 2,400 survive in Indiaand Nepal. The population in India is estimated to be around 1,500. The other Asian rhinos are closer to extinction — Javan rhinos number less than 70 and Sumtran rhinos do not exceed 300 in number. Both African rhinos are better off. The black rhino numbers around 2400 while the estimated population of the white rhino is a little more than 7,500. The Indian rhino can be distinguished from the other rhinos by its large head, the highly developed neck skin folds and only two skin folds around its body. It is much larger (a male can reach a shoulder height of 1.85 m) and heavier (a male can weigh as much as 1,600-2,100 kg) than the other Asian rhinos. The Indian rhino prefers floodplain grasslands interspersed with marshes, swamps and lakes, while its African cousins are usually found in open savanna country. Both males and females have nasal horns measuring 20 cm on an average. The horns of the black rhino, on the other hand, can reach a length of 50 cm and that of the white rhino 60 cm. The rhino is solitary by nature, but may be seen occasionally to feed and wallow in scattered groups of 10. It is fond of water, and is known to wallow in muddy waters for hours at a stretch. This grass-eater restricts its movement to a tiny area, rarely exceeding 2 sq km. Males, however, often venture farther in search of mates. A male becomes sexually mature at seven years, and females three years earlier. Rhinos breed all through the year. A calf is born after about 16 months. The mother and the young one stay together for 3-4 years. A calf is dependant on the mother for protection, particularly against the tiger. The horn on an average weighs 720 gm, and grows throughout life. If lost, it can be regrown. This is what comes across as a surprise, for a rhino does not need to be killed to procure its horn, essentially only a hard tuft of hair. The horn, however, is not the chief instrument for attack. Though the rhino avoids contact with humans and its charges are often displays of threat, though it can press home its charge.

Gangetic river dolphin (Platanista gangetica)
Inhabits the Ganga, Brahmaputra, Karnaphuli and Meghana Rivers and their tributaries in India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan. It prefers deep water and migrates seasonally upstream as the water level rises. It feeds mainly on fish, shrimps and molluscs, relying heavily on echolocation and touch to find its prey due to its poor eyesight. Formerly abundant, it has now been reduced to 3,000-4,000 individuals in India. The species is threatened by pollution, dams, mining and directed and incidental catch. The dolphins of the Ganga system are now divided into small isolated subpopulations.

Indian cobra (Naja naja)
Usually timid, the cobra is fierce and aggressive when disturbed. When alarmed, it adopts the well-known pose with erect forebody and spread hood. This height is one-third its body length and forms an effective striking range. Its poison is neurotoxic.

Russell's viper (Daboia russelii)
This largest Indian viper does not strike unless irritated. It hisses louder than any other snake, and it strikes by hurling forward or even leaping off the ground. It prefers open country and may be seen around human habitats because of rodents. The venom is haemotoxic. Growing usually up to 1.2 m, this largest of Indian vipers does not readily strike unless irritated. Widely distributed in India, it prefers open country and may be seen around human habitats because of rodents.

Common Indian krait (Bungarus caeruleus)
The usual length of this commonly-found snake is not more than 1.2 m. It lives in fields, low scrub jungles, and is known to sneak into human habitations. The krait's venom, both haemotoxic and neurotoxic, is 15 times more virulent than that of the cobra. It is known to have a placid temperament and bites on provocation. However, it is known to have a placid temperament and bites only on provocation. The yield of poison depends on the krait's physical condition, and the quantity injected by a bite does not depend on its size. The uniformly white belly and the narrow white crossbars on the back are its distinguishable features. It is lustrous black or bluish black in colour on the above.

Saw-scaled viper (Echis carinata)
Found mainly in arid country, it is also seenin semi-desert and broken scrub areas. It is dangerous since it bites lightningly on the slightest provocation. The striking posture is characteristic, a double coil in the form of a figure of eight, with its head in the centre. The venom is five times as toxic as that of the cobra's.

Indian python (Python molurus)
The longest of this species recorded in India has been 5.85 m. It is found in open forests with rocky outcrops and in the absence of forests it can be seen in rivers. A slow moving snake, it is known to feed on mammals, birds and reptiles. However, it prefers mammals and among stomach contents reported have been leopard, langur, jackal, peafowl, chital, etc. It rarely moves after a heavy meal since the hard parts (like bones and horns) of the prey can tear through its body wall.

Mugger or marsh crocodile (Crocodylus palustris)
The best known and widely distributed among the crocodilian species, it used to be seen widely in most Indian river systems and their streams, and lakes. Ruthless and indiscriminate hunting for its skin, much sought after by the leather industry, has made it an endangered species. The mugger is resilient and its vitality can make life difficult for a hunter and may take a long time to kill. It hunts mostly in water, and can drag in, and drown any animal within its capacity to kill. Human-eating muggers are uncommon in India.

Gharial or long-snouted crocodile (Gavialis gangeticus)
It can be easily distinguished from other crocodiles by its long, narrow snout which ends in a bulbous tip. Once widely prevalent in the Indus, Ganga, Brahmaputra and Mahanadi river systems, rampant hunting has now confined it to the rivers of the Ganga river system alone.

Blue (or Indian) Peafowl (Pavocristatus)
The Peafowl has been kept and reared in captivity for over 2000 years. Although no signs of domestication such as changes in shape or size have ever occurred, two or tree mutations have developed . One mutation, known to occur frequently among birds bred in captivity, is the White Indian Peafowl. Peafowl are ground feeding birds with moderately strong legs. Three strong toes face forwards and one backwards. While they nest on the ground, they prefer to roost in the trees. Their wing surface to bodyweight ration is not large and most species are incapable of long flights. Peafowl are native to southern India and Ceylon.