The rich variety of fauna is in direct relation to the abundance and opulence of the flora. Both are inter-linked and interdependent in many ways. The flora depends on the fauna for its fertilization, propagation and spread, while the latter’s existence and survival depends on the former. There are about 350 species of mammals and 1,200 species of birds. More than 30,000 species of insects, apart from a great variety of reptiles and fishes are also found.
The mammals include the elephant, the Indian bison, Indian buffalo, the blue-bull or nilgai, four-horned antelope, black buck, Indian wild ass, the famed one-horned rhinoceros and many varieties of deer. Under the big game category come the Indian lion, the tiger, the panther, leopard and various species of smaller cats. Many types of bears roam the western Himalayas, but only a single species of panda is found. Several species of monkeys and apes are common. The wild yak inhabits the upper lands of Ladakh.
India is very rich in bird life also. The Indian peacock, with its splendid blue plumage, is the national bird. Several other species, such as ducks, pheasants, partridges, jungle fowl, quails, green pigeons, mynahs, bulbuls, parakeets, hornbills, herons, and cranes, etc. are a familiar sight. The rivers and lakes harbor crocodiles, gharries and a large variety’ of indigenous fish. Trout is common in hill streams and the masher is found in most of the large rivers.
Sometimes it is asked why we should preserve wildlife and conserve forests when we ourselves need more land for agriculture, housing and industries. Moreover, it is argued that wild beasts and birds destroy our crops and gardens. The wild beasts also pose a threat to our domestic animals and livestock. Why then should there be reserved forests and sanctuaries? Why should our scarce money and resources be spent in protecting lions, tigers, musk deer, crocodiles, cranes or swans? What do we lose if some species are already extinct, and some others are on the verge of extinction?
Obviously, these questions and queries betray our ignorance and wrong priorities. Wildlife is an essential and integral part of nature. The wild birds, animals, insects and reptiles help to maintain a balance in nature and conservation of environment. God has not created them without purpose. All these species have their respective and definite roles to play in the larger scheme of things. We should not forget that man is also an animal but social, intelligent and rational. We share many things in common with them. Our kinship with them is very long and established. They are there to enrich and make our life more enjoyable and meaningful. The decrease in their numbers is bound to influence the ecology and quality of our life adversely.
They are as good an essential part of nature as we are. They are a constant and renewable source of food, medicine, and protection of environment. Nothing is useless in nature. That is why they find such an important place in our art, culture, religion, literature and mythology. Without them more than half the charm of human life would be destroyed. They all are our great friends, without whom we cannot do. For example, snakes protect our crops by destroying rodents; vultures and kites, etc. do our scavenging work; lions and tigers, etc. keep the deer population in check and the birds and insects help in fertilisation of fruits, flowers and crops. Fish, deer, fowls, pheasants, rabbits, partridges, wild buffaloes, and hogs, etc. provide us meat. If there were no birds, life would be without much sweet music, colour, diversion, solace and beauty. In other words, wildlife is really precious and it is our bounden duty to preserve and protect it.
From a tourist’s point of view, our wildlife is a great attraction. Foreign tourists come here to see the Royal Bengal tiger and Asiatic lion, the majestic elephant, the one-horned rhino, the colorful peacock, the wonderful birds of paradise and to angle the trout and the masher. They help us in earning precious foreign exchange. There are many things in life which are indispensable but we are seldom conscious of their importance. This applies to wildlife as well. These birds, beasts, insects and reptiles form an integral part of nature, human life, and national wealth.
The extinction of many species of wildlife in India has sounded the warning bells. Thank God that we have not turned a deaf ear to these signals. We have the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI), with its headquarters in Kolkata and 16 regional stations spread all over, for surveying the fauna resources of the country. The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, governs the wildlife conservation and protection of endangered species both inside and outside the forest. Under this Act, trade in rare and endangered species has been banned. It is a cognizable offence to kill these species. There are presently 75 national parks, 421 wildlife sanctuaries and 35 zoological gardens in the country, covering nearly 4.5% of the geographical area. But still much remains to be done to protect and conserve wildlife in India.