India is well known as a vibrant, exotic and colourful country, and this is also reflected in the wildlife to be found across the sub-continent. A diverse range of habitats ranging from mountain peaks and arid deserts, to lush rainforests and humid mangrove swamps, support a huge number of spectacular plants and animals.[slideshow]
Indian wildlife includes some of the world’s most popular animals, including the tiger and Asian elephant. In many cases India acts as the last viable refuge for endangered species. India currently supports the largest remaining population of Bengal tigers, with an estimated 1,600 left in the wild. Unfortunately, none of the areas currently assigned for tiger conservation is big enough to support an effective population of over 250 individuals. The pressure on tigers is further compounded by illegal poaching for their use in traditional medicine.
Another endangered big cat is the snow leopard. Found above 3000 meters, the Himalayas provide the perfect environment for them. They are specially adapted to their environment in a number of ways. These include a smaller stockier body with thicker fur compared to other leopards. Their snouts are also shorter, with a domed forehead, containing large nasal cavities which help them to breath in the thin mountain air. They also lack a larynx, as a result of which they are unable to roar. There is an estimated population of between 3000 and 7000 animals left in the wild, all in the mountains of Central and Southern Asia. The difficult terrain they live in makes it hard to get a more exact estimate on their numbers, but it also helps in their conservation as habitat loss is less of a problem.
India is well known as one of the most populous countries on earth, the 1.15 billion humans share much of the country with the second most common primate in Asia– the Rhesus Macaque. These monkeys are able to exploit almost all environments found in India, as well as thriving in towns and cities. Although historically found in the north of India, in recent years they have started moving south through peninsular India.
Some Indian animals have been immortalised in literature, especially in the works of Rudyard Kipling. Most of the Jungle Book focuses on larger animals such as panthers, bears and pythons, but one of Kipling’s most celebrated stories is of the plucky little mongoose Riki Tiki Tavi and the defence of his adoptive human family from a pair of cobras.
Along with the larger, well known mammals are countless numbers of insects, birds and reptiles. The collections at the Booth Museum include examples from all these groups of animals. Many were collected by Victorian and early 20th century British officers and administrators assigned to India when it was part of the British Empire. Some of these officers may even have commanded the Indian troops who passed through the hospitals of Brighton and Hove, commemorated by the India Gate.
Lee Ismail, Curator of Natural Sciences