INDIA: A country with more than 400 species of mammals alone and no less than 615 protected areas. Even 90 % of India is carpeted with Forest, 501 wildlife sanctuary 92 national parks and 27 tiger reserves and The only country in the world that's home to both lions and tigers.From the four corners of the country to Central India, the heartland of the Indian wilderness: Ranthambore. Bandhavgarh. Panna. Kanha. Here the big cats roam free amid the vast expanses.
Nearly 60% of the world's tigers are found in our country. Strongly territorial, tigers mark trees with their claws to make it clear to all interlopers: this land is mine.
One of their main prey, the gracious Chital or spotted deer, is found throughout the country. The tiger also feeds on the Nilgai or blue bull. India's largest antelope, it's a species found nowhere else in the world.
But this arid land also has its permanent residents, like the Chinkara or Indian Gazelle. The Chinkara is perfectly adapted to the harsh desert environment and can go without water for long periods.
It's not all dry and brown here. The sun in Rajasthan also lights up verdant vistas like this one: Bharatpur, a world heritage site, known throughout the world as a bird paradise. In winter Bharatpur houses more than 415 kinds of birds, out of which 117 bird species fly in from places as far away as Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, China and Siberia.
It's a virtual directory of bird species: large water birds like the Pelican… strong fliers and equally excellent swimmers. The Purple Swamp hen, spending much of its time hidden amid wetland vegetation, Another wading bird that can be seen here: the Blockheaded Ibis, The Painted Stork, a resident breeder of these low-lying wetlands. Among the vast number of other avians are several varieties of egrets, ducks and geese.
One other inhabitant that deserves a special mention is the world's tallest flying bird: the Sarus Crane, which stands as tall as a human. The only resident breeding crane in India, Sarus Cranes form life-long pair bonds, and return to the same breeding grounds year after year.
It isn't just a bird paradise; a wealth of wildlife species adds to the biodiversity of Bharatpur.
The woodlands of Central India also shelter another species found only in the Indian subcontinent: the Sloth Bear. These omnivores are connoisseurs of ants and termites but these fierce fighters have been known to fight even tigers. The tiger's prey have their own warning system: the Hanuman Langur often foils the big cat's hunt with its shrill alarm call. It has exceptionally sharp eyesight and can spot the slightest movement from a distance.
Some years ago, our indifference wiped this lovely creature, the cheetah off our country's map. It's a shocking truth that the tiger, our national animal, could easily be next. But there's still hope. There's still time. If we don't buy wildlife products like tiger skins, ivory, otter pelts, peacock feathers, shatoosh, butterfly specimens… they can't sell. If they can't sell, they won't kill. And this precious natural heritage can flourish…
In the foothills to its south, the Khanchendzonga National Park is one of the last remaining habitats for this shy animal: the Red Panda. Much of the northeast is covered with dense, evergreen rainforests. With perennial rainfall, t his area has the distinction of having some of the wettest spots on planet Earth. It's an ideal setting for exotic flora. The region is home to four hundred and fifty five species of orchids, many of these in the state of Arunachal Pradesh. In the nearby Barsey sanctuary of Sikkim you'll find a host of brilliant rhododendrons, lending a splash of colour to the setting. But it's not just flowers. The area is also home to a number of unusual birds and animals.
Birds such as this hornbill, with its distinctive oversized beak. And to this secretive arboreal cat, the clouded leopard. Here, while the fast cats roam, the slowcoaches plod their way along the forest floor. Nineteen species of turtles and tortoises can be found here.
But that's not all: the region also plays host to the world's rarest monkey, the Golden Langur found only in India and Bhutan. From the large to the small: there's another busy world between the leaves. The region has another unique feature, the floating wildlife sanctuary at Loktak lake in Manipur, where one can see the rare dancing deer or sangai . Nearby, Assam the land of the rhinos, Kaziranga National Park today houses two thirds of the world's Rhino population. The one horned rhino, once found right across the northern floodplains of the subcontinent, was driven almost to extinction during the early 19th century, but good conservation efforts have revived its population here. India has a greater variety of deer than any other country in the world.
One neighbour that deer probably don't mind having: the elephant, seen here in Kaziranga National Park. Descendants of the prehistoric mammoth, elephants date back no less than 50 million years. In this National park you'll find plenty of opportunities of sighting elephants roaming freely.
Southwards along the Bay of Bengal, past the Sunderbans, one reaches the Orissa coast, world's largest breeding site of the Olive Ridley turtle. On the way: Simlipal, Bhittarkanika, Chilika Lake and Satkosia Gorge, a protected habitat for the Gharial, a species unique to our country. This is also a good place to look at the world's largest reptile, the crocodile.
The peacock, India's national bird, ever alert to the changing seasons. As the monsoon approaches, nature responds with a beautiful display. The forests of the south are the first to receive the monsoon showers. These forests house several species, such as the Gaur, sometimes called the Indian bison, the biggest wild ox in the world.
Set in the high ranges of the Western Ghats is the Periyar National Park and here you can see a unique spectacle: elephants swimming! Elephants are believed to have once been aquatic mammals, and even now they take to the water with ease. It's also a good place to sight the ambassador of the wetlands: the otter. The golden beaches of peninsular India gateways to a vibrant marine ecosystem. Here the sea plays host to numerous species. A school of parrotfish. A hawksbill turtle, one of the endangered turtle species. Among the other exotic inhabitants, a stonefish, and the most venomous of all fish…. a leopard eel. Fronds of coral. It's an underwater forest with as much biodiversity as the rainforests. A sting ray - The shark, top-predator of the marine eco-system. There's so much to see.
These dense evergreen jungles of the Western Ghats are home to the Nilgiri langurs… and a highly threatened primate, the Lion-tailed Macaque.The western region of India is home to another endangered species as well: It's the king himself, seen here in the wilds of Gujarat. A century ago the Asiatic Lions had nearly become extinct, with only some twenty of these majestic creatures left. But today there are more than 300, and they're all found here in the Gir National Park, the last lions in the wild outside Africa.
The lion's prey, the blackbuck, is another distinctive wildlife species found here. Originally spread over large tracts of India, today the Blackbuck population is confined to a few small pockets.
Every year, during the monsoons, thousands of flamingos congregate to nest here off the Gujarat coast, turning the Nalsarovar Sanctuary into a blaze of pink. These strong flyers can easily cover more than 500 km in a single flight. From the coast, through the mud to the dunes… the dramatic Thar desert of Rajasthan in western India, its golden sands gleaming in the sun .
Every winter, these sands receive visitors from Central Asia: demoiselle cranes, simply thousands of them, descending with a deafening clamour onto the dunes at Khichen. They cover the 5,000-kilometre journey in about two weeks, flying across many international frontiers and soaring over the Himalayas.