In this first post on Ecology series, we look into some of the prominent threatened animals with reference to IUCN’s Red List for India. Note that this is not an exhaustive list but describes the existential threats of some of the prominent animal species in India.
- Listed as Endangered (EN) in IUCN Red list because of a population size reduction inferred to be at least 50% over the last three generations, based on a reduction in its area of occupancy and the quality of its habitat.
- Trends in habitat loss/degradation and other threats including poaching, an overall population decline of at least 50% over the last three generations (estimated to be 60-75 years, based on a generation time estimated to be 20-25 years) seems realistic.
- Once widespread in India, the species is now restricted to four general areas: north-eastern India, central India, north-western India, and southern India.
- In central India, highly fragmented elephant populations are found in the States of Orissa, Jharkhand, and the southern part of West Bengal, with some animals wandering into
- In north-western India, the species occurs in six fragmented populations at the foot of the Himalayas in Uttaranchal and Uttar Pradesh, ranging from Katerniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary in Bahraich Forest Division in the east, to the Yamuna River in the west.
- In southern India, elephants occur in hilly terrain of Western Ghats and in parts of the Eastern Ghats in the states of Karnataka, Kerala Tamil Nadu, and, relatively recently, Andhra Pradesh.
- There are eight main populations in southern India, each fragmented from the others: northern Karnataka; the Crestline of Karnataka-Western Ghats; Bhadra-Malnad; Brahmagiri-Nilgiris-Eastern Ghats; Nilambur-Silent Valley-Coimbatore; Anamalais-Parambikulam; Periyar-Srivilliputhur; and Agasthyamalals.
ASIATIC LION (VULNERABLE)
- A Species population reduction of approximately 30% is suspected over the past two decades (approximately three Lion generations). Causes of this reduction (primarily indiscriminate killing in defence of life and livestock, coupled with prey base depletion), are unlikely to have ceased.
- This suspected reduction is based on direct observation; appropriate indices of abundance; a decline in area of occupation, extent of occupation and habitat quality; and actual and potential levels of exploitation.
LION TAILED MACAQUE
- Listed as Endangered as the total number of mature individuals is less than 2,500 with no subpopulation having more than 250 mature individuals.
- There are estimates of a continued decline of over 20% of the populations in the next approximately 25 years, along with hunting and continued loss of habitat.
GREAT INDIAN RHINOCEROS (VULNERABLE)
- The Greater One-horned Rhinoceros populations are increasing overall due to strict protection, especially in India. However, some populations are decreasing, especially in Nepal and parts of north-eastern India.
- The species is currently confined to fewer than ten sites, with a total extent of occurrence of less than 20,000 Km2. There is a continuing decline in the quality of habitat, projected to continue into the future, which, if not addressed, will affect the long-term survival of some of the smaller populations, and could jeopardize the further recovery of the species.
- Its populations are also severely fragmented, and with over 70% of the population in Kaziranga National Park, a catastrophic event there could have a devastating impact on the status of species. This species declined to near extinction in the early 1900s, primarily due to widespread conversion of alluvial plains grasslands to agricultural development, which led to human-rhino conflicts and easier accessibility for hunters.
- Sport hunting became common in the late 1800s and early 1900s. A reversal of government policies shortly thereafter protected many of the remaining populations.
- However, poaching, mainly for the use of the horn in Traditional Chinese Medicine has remained a constant and the success is precarious without continued and increased support for conservation efforts in India and Nepal.
- Poaching has lead to decreases in several important populations, especially those in Chitwan, Manas, Laokhowa, and the Babai Valley area of Bradia.
LEOPARD (NEAR THREATENED)
- Leopards have a wide range and are locally common in some parts of India. However, they are declining in large parts of their range due to habitat loss and fragmentation, and hunting for trade and pest control.
- These threats may be significant enough that the species could soon qualify for Vulnerable under criterion A.
NEELGAI (LEAST CONCERN)
- Numbers in India are estimated to exceed 100,000 and their distribution covers a large part of the subcontinent. No decline has been reported and the species adapts well to agricultural areas.
- Occur in arid areas, scrub, dry deciduous forests and agricultural areas, but avoid dense forest and deserts. They are both browsers and grazers.
- Considered an agricultural pest in parts of India and, although legally protected in India, legislation has been amended to permit hunting when crop damage becomes excessive.
- Hunting and habitat destruction have had an adverse effect in Pakistan and Bangladesh.
ROYAL BENGAL TIGER
- Listed as Endangered. Tiger range appears to have declined by over 50% over the last three generations (21-27 years).
- Comparing present Tiger population estimates (approximately 3,000) to those in the 1990s (5,000-7,000), despite the imprecision of the earlier estimate, also suggests a decline of at least 50% over this time period. The declining trend is likely to persist in the near future. The causes of population reduction may not be reversible in some areas.
- Illegal trade in high-value Tiger products including skins, bones, meat and tonics is a primary threat to Tigers, which has led to their recent disappearance from broad areas of otherwise suitable habitat, and continues at unsustainable rates.
- Asia is a densely populated and rapidly developing region, bringing huge pressures to bear on the large wild areas required for viable Tiger populations.
- Conversion of forest land to agriculture and silviculture, commercial logging, and human settlement are the main drivers of Tiger habitat loss. With their substantial dietary requirements, Tigers require a healthy large ungulate prey base, but these species are also under heavy human subsistence hunting pressure and competition from domestic livestock.
- Tiger attacks on livestock and people can lead to intolerance of Tigers by neighbouring communities and presents an ongoing challenge to managers to build local support for Tiger conservation. In some areas there have been many human deaths.