Physically the massive country is divided into four relatively well defined regions - the Himalayan mountains, the Gangetic river plains, the southern (Deccan) plateau, and the islands of Lakshadweep, Andaman and Nicobar. The Himalayas in the far north include some of the highest peaks in the world. The highest mountain in the Indian Himalayas is Khangchenjunga (8586 m) which is located in Sikkim on the border with Nepal. To the south of the main Himalayan massif lie the Lesser Himalaya, rising to 3,600- 4,600 m, and represented by the Pir Panjal in Kashmir and Dhaula dhar in Himachal Pradesh. Further south, flanking the Indo-Gangetic Plain, are the Siwaliks which rise to 900-1,500 m.
The northern plains of India stretch from Assam in the east to the Punjab in the west (a distance of 2,400 km), extending south to terminate in the saline swamplands of the Rann of Kachchh (Kutch), in the state of Gujarat. Some of the largest rivers in India including the Ganga (Ganges), Ghaghara, Brahmaputra, and the Yamuna flow across this region. The delta area of these rivers is located at the head of the Bay of Bengal, partly in the Indian state of west Bengal but mostly in Bangladesh. The plains are remarkably homogenous topographically: for hundreds of kilometres the only perceptible relief is formed by floodplain bluffs, minor natural levees and hollows known as 'spill patterns', and the belts of ravines formed by gully erosion along some of the larger rivers. In this zone, variation in relief does not exceed 300 m (FAO/UNEP, 1981) but the uniform flatness conceals a great deal of pedological variety. The agriculturally productive alluvial silts and clays of the Ganga-Brahmaputra delta in north-eastern India, for example, contrast strongly with the comparatively sterile sands of the Thar Desert which is located at the western extremity of the Indian part of the plains in the state of Rajasthan.
The climate of India is dominated by the Asiatic monsoon, most importantly by rains from the south-west between June and October, and drier winds from the north between December and February. From March to May the climate is dry and hot.
India has a rich variety of wetland habitats. The total area of wetlands (excluding rivers) in India is 58,286,000ha, or 18.4% of the country, 70% of which comprises areas under paddy cultivation. A total of 1,193 wetlands, covering an area of about 3,904,543 ha, were recorded in a preliminary inventory coordinated by the Department of Science and Technology, of which 572 were natural (Scott, 1989). India's most important wetland areas are shown in Figure 2 . Two sites - Chilka Lake (Orissa) and Keoladeo National Park (Bharatpur) - have been designated under the Convention of Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Convention) as being especially significant waterfowl habitats. The country's wetlands are generally differentiated by region into eight categories (Scott, 1989): the reservoirs of the Deccan Plateau in the south, together with the lagoons and the other wetlands of the southern west coast; the vast saline expanses of Rajasthan, Gujarat and the gulf of Kachchh; freshwater lakes and reservoirs from Gujarat eastwards through Rajasthan (Kaeoladeo Ghana National park) and Madhya Pradesh; the delta wetlands and lagoons of India's east coast (Chilka Lake); the freshwater marshes of the Gangetic Plain; the floodplain of the Brahmaputra; the marshes and swamps in the hills of north-east India and the Himalayan foothills; the lakes and rivers of the montane region of Kashmir and Ladakh; and the mangroves and other wetlands of the island arcs of the Andamans and Nicobars.
One of the most important tropical forests classifications was developed for Greater India (Champion, 1936) and later republished for present-day India (Champion and Seth, 1968). This approach has proved to have wide application outside India. In it 16 major forests types are recognised, subdivided into 221 minor types. Structure, physiognomy and floristics are all used as characters to define the types.
The main areas of tropical forest are found in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands; the Western Ghats, which fringe the Arabian Sea coastline of peninsular India; and the greater Assam region in the north-east. Small remnants of rain forest are found in Orissa state. Semi-evergreen rain forest is more extensive than the evergreen formation partly because evergreen forests tend to degrade to semi-evergreen with human interference. There are substantial differences in both the flora and fauna between the three major rain forest regions (IUCN, 1986; Rodges and Panwar, 1988).
The Western Ghats Monsoon forests occur both on the western (coastal) margins of the ghats and on the eastern side where there is less rainfall. Figure 4 shows the distribution of forest in Kerala State, which contains part of the Western Ghats range. These forests contain several tree species of great commercial significance (e.g. Indian rosewood Dalbergia latifolia, Malabar Kino Pterocarpus marsupium, teak and Terminalia crenulata), but they have now been cleared from many areas. In the rain forests there is an enormous number of tree species. At least 60 percent of the trees of the upper canopy are of species which individually contribute not more than one percent of the total number. Clumps of bamboo occur along streams or in poorly drained hollows throughout the evergreen and semi-evergreen forests of south-west India, probably in areas once cleared for shifting agriculture.
The tropical vegetation of north-east India (which includes the states of Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura and Meghalaya as well as the plain regions of Arunachal Pradesh) typically occurs at elevations up to 900 m. It embraces evergreen and semi-evergreen rain forests, moist deciduous monsoon forests, riparian forests, swamps and grasslands. Evergreen rain forests are found in the Assam Valley, the foothills of the eastern Himalayas and the lower parts of the Naga Hills, Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Manipur where the rain fall exceeds 2300 mm per annum. In the Assam Valley the giant Dipterocarpus macrocarpus and Shorea assamica occur singly, occasionally attaining a girth of up to 7 m and a height of up to 50 m. The monsoon forests are mainly moist sal Shorea robusta forests, which occur widely in this region (IUCN, 1991).
The Andamans and Nicobar islands have tropical evergreen rain forests and tropical semi-evergreen rainforests as well as tropical monsoon moist monsoon forests (IUCN, 1986).The tropical evergreen rain forest is only slightly less grand in stature and rich in species than on the mainland. The dominant species is Dipterocarpus grandiflorus in hilly areas, while Dipterocarpus kerrii is dominant on some islands in the southern parts of the archipelago. The monsoon forests of the Andamans are dominated by Pterocarpus dalbergioides and Terminalia spp.
Coral reefs occur along only a few sections of the mainland, principally the Gulf of Kutch, off the southern mainland coast, and around a number of islands opposite Sri Lanka. This general absence is due largely to the presence of major river systems and the sedimentary regime on the continental shelf. Elsewhere, corals are also found in Andaman, Nicobar (Figure 5), and Lakshadweep island groups although their diversity is reported to be lower than in south-east India (UNEP/IUCN, 1988).
Indian coral reefs have a wide range of resources which are of commercial value. Exploitation of corals, coral debris and coral sands is widespread on the Gulf of Mannar and Gulf of Kutch reefs, while ornamental shells, chanks and pearl oysters are the basis of an important reef industry in the south of India. Sea fans and seaweeds are exported for decorative purposes, and there is a spiny lobster fishing industry along the south-east coast, notably at Tuticorin, Madras and Mandapam Commercial exploitation of aquarium fishes from Indian coral reefs has gained importance only recently and as yet no organised effort has been made to exploit these resources. Reef fisheries are generally at the subsistence level and yields are unrecorded.
Other notable marine areas are seagrass beds, which although not directly exploited are valuable as habitats for commercially harvested species, particularly prawns, and mangrove stands. In the Gulf of Mannar the green tiger prawn Penaeus semisulcatus is extensively harvested for the export market. Seagrass beds are also important feeding areas for the dugong Dugong dugon, plus several species of marine turtle.
Five species of marine turtle occur in Indian waters: Green turtle Chelonia mydas, Loggerhead Caretta caretta, Olive Ridley Lepidochelys olivacea, Hawksbill Eretmochelys imbricata and Leatherback Dermochelys coriacea. Most of the marine turtle populations found in the Indian region are in decline. The principal reason for the decrease in numbers is deliberate human predation. Turtles are netted and speared along the entire Indian coast. In south-east India the annual catch is estimated at 4,000-5,000 animals, with C. mydas accounting for about 70% of the harvest. C. caretta and L. olivacea are the most widely consumed species (Salm, 1981). E. imbricata is occasionally eaten but it has caused deaths and so is usually caught for its shell alone. D. coriacea is boiled for its oil which is used for caulking boats and as protection from marine borers. Incidental netting is widespread. In the Gulf of Mannar turtles are still reasonably common near seagrass beds where shrimp trawlers operate, but off the coast of Bengal the growing number of mechanized fishing boats has had the effect of increasing incidental catch rates (Kar and Bhaskar, 1981). (Figure 6) shows known turtle nesting areas in the Andaman Islands.
Table 1. Comparison Between the Number of Species in India and the World.
Group Number of species Number of species SI/SW in India (SI) in the world (SW) (%) _____________________________________________________________________ Mammals 350(1) 4,629(7) 7.6 Birds 1224(2) 9,702(8) 12.6 Reptiles 408(3) 6,550(9) 6.2 Amphibians 197(4) 4,522(10) 4.4 Fishes 2546(5) 21,730(11) 11.7 Flowering Plants 15,000(6) 250,000(12) 6.0 _____________________________________________________________________Click here for Table 1 sources.
India has a great many scientific institutes and university departments interested in various aspects of biodiversity. A large number of scientists and technicians have been engaged in inventory, research, and monitoring. The general state of knowledge about the distribution and richness of the country's biological resources is therefore fairly good.
Inventories of birds, mammals, trees, fish and reptiles are moderately complete. As examples see Appendix 3 for a list of the birds of India, and Appendix 4 for a list of the mammals of India. Knowledge of special interest groups such as primates, pheasants, bovids, endemic birds, orchids, and so on,is steadily improving through collaboration of domestic scientists with those from overseas. The importance of these biological resources cannot be overestimated for the continued welfare of India's population.
WCMC's Threatened Plants Unit (TPU) is in the preliminary stages of cataloguing the world's centres of plant diversity; approximately 150 botanical sites worldwide are so far recognised as important for conservation action, but others are constantly being identified (IUCN, 1987). Five locations have so far been issued for India: the Agastyamalai Hills, Silent Valley and New Amarambalam Reserve and Periyar National Park (all in the Western Ghats), and the Eastern and Western Himalaya. These centres are shown in Figure 7.
The 396 known endemic higher vertebrate species identified by WCMC from source references are listed in Appendix 2. Endemism among mammals and birds is relatively low. Only 44 species of Indian mammal have a range that is confined entirely to within Indian territorial limits. Four endemic species of conservation significance occur in the Western Ghats. They are the Lion-tailed macaque Macaca silenus, Nilgiri leaf monkey Trachypithecus johni (locally better known as Nilgiri langur Presbytis johnii), Brown palm civet Paradoxurus jerdoni and Nilgiri tahr Hemitragus hylocrius.
Only 55 bird species are endemic to India, with distributions concentrated in areas of high rainfall. These areas, mapped by BirdLife International (formerly the International Council for Bird Preservation) are shown in Figure 7. They are located mainly in eastern India along the mountain chains where the monsoon shadow occurs, south-west India (the Western Ghats), and the Nicobar and Andaman Islands (ICBP, 1992).
In contrast, endemism in the Indian reptilian and amphibian fauna is high. There are around 187 endemic reptiles, and 110 endemic amphibian species. Eight amphibian genera are not found outside India. They include, among the caecilians, Indotyphlus, Gegeneophis and Uraeotyphlus; and among the anurans, the toad Bufoides, the microhylid Melanobatrachus, and the frogs Ranixalus, Nannobatrachus and Nyctibatrachus. Perhaps most notable among the endemic amphibian genera is the monotypic Melanobatrachus which has a single species known only from a few specimens collected in the Anaimalai Hills in the 1870s (Groombridge, 1983). It is possibly most closely related to two relict genera found in the mountains of eastern Tanzania.
Table 2. Globally Threatened Animals Occurring in India by Status Category.
Group 1994 IUCN Red List Threat Category Endangered Vulnerable Rare Indeterminate Insufficiently TOTAL Known _____________________________________________________________________________________________ Mammals 13 20 2 5 13 53 Birds 6 20 25 13 5 69 Reptiles 6 6 4 5 2 23 Amphibians 0 0 0 3 0 3 Fishes 0 0 2 0 0 2 Invertebrates 1 3 12 2 4 22 _____________________________________________________________________________________________ TOTAL 26 49 45 28 24 172Source: Groombridge, B. (ed). 1993. The 1994 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK. lvi + 286 pp.
A workshop held in 1982 indicated that as many as 3,000-4,000 higher plants may be under a degree of threat in India. Since then, the Project on Study, Survey and Conservation of Endangered species of Flora (POSSCEP) has partially documented these plants, and published its findings in Red Data Books (Nayar and Sastry, 1987). Appendix 7 provides a conservation status listing of many of these plants, based on information maintained at WCMC, whilst Table 3 provides summary statistics for this information.
Table 3. Summary of Plant Conservation Status Information at WCMC.
IUCN Threat category Number of species _____________________________________________ Extinct 19 Extinct/Endangered 43 Endangered 149 Endangered/Vulnerable 2 Vulnerable 108 Rare 256 Indeterminate 719 Insufficiently Known 9 No information 1441 Not threatened 374 _____________________________________________ TOTAL 3120Source: WCMC Species Unit.
Wildlife, together with forestry, has traditionally been managed under a single administrative organisation within the forest departments of each state or union territory, with the role of central government being mainly advisory. There have been two recent developments. First, the Wildlife (Protection) Act has provided for the creation of posts of chief wildlife wardens and wildlife wardens in the states to exercise statutory powers under the Act. Under this Act, it is also mandatory for the states to set up state wildlife advisory boards. Secondly the inclusion of protection of wild animals and birds in the concurrent list of the constitution, has proved the union with some legislative control over the states in the conservation of wildlife (Pillai, 1982). The situation has since improved, all states and union territories with national parks or sanctuaries having set up wildlife wings.
The adoption of a National Policy for Wildlife Conservation in 1970 and the enactment of the Wildlife (Protection) Act in 1972 lead to a significant growth in the protected areas network, from 5 national parks and 60 sanctuaries to 69 and 410 respectively, in 1990 (Panwar, 1990). The complete United Nations List of National Parks and Protected Areas for India (1993) is given in Appendix 8. These protected areas, shown in Figure 8, are distributed throughout mainland India and its islands.
The network was further strengthened by a number of national conservation projects, notably Project Tiger, initiated in April 1973 by the Government of India with support from WWF (IBWL, 1972; Panwar, 1982), and the crocodile Breeding and Management Project, launched on 1 April, 1975 with technical assistance from UNDP/FAO (Bustard, 1982).
There are currently seven national parks in the Western Ghats with a total area of 2,073 sq. km (equivalent to 1.3% of the region) and 39 wildlife sanctuaries covering an area of about 13,862 sq. km (8.1%). The protected areas of Kerala State are shown in Figure 9.
The management status of the wildlife sanctuaries in this part of India varies enormously. Tamil Nadu's Nilgiri wildlife sanctuary, for example, has no human inhabitants, small abandoned plantation areas and no produce exploitation, while the Parambikulam wildlife sanctuary in Kerala includes considerable areas of commercial plantations and privately owned estates with heavy resource exploitation. Summary sheets describing some of the protected areas in Kerala State are given in Appendix 9.
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)
Since India became a party to CITES on 18th October 1976 it has provided data annually to the CITES secretariat on the trade of endangered species through its CITES Management Authority. The text of the CITES convention along with the CITES appendices are provided.
World Heritage Convention
India ratified the World Heritage Convention in 1977 and since then five natural sites have been inscribed as areas of 'outstanding universal value'. These sites are:
Convention on Biological Diversity
India signed the Convention on Biological Diversity on 5th June 1992, ratified it on 18th February 1994 and brought it into force on 19th May 1994. This convention will provide a framework for the sustainable management and conservation of India's natural resources.
Ramsar (Wetlands) Convention
India has been a contracted party to the Ramsar Convention since 1st February 1982. India has now six sites covering some 192,973 hectares of important wetlands. These sites are;
Appendix 1 Summary Data for India
Appendix 2 Endemic Animals of India
Appendix 3 Ornithological Checklist of India
Appendix 4 Mammals Checklist for India
Appendix 5 Threatened Animals of India
Appendix 6 Status Accounts for Selected Threatened Indian Mammals
Appendix 7 Conservation Status Listing of Indian Plants
Appendix 8 United Nations List of Protected Areas of India (1993)
Appendix 9 List of Protected Areas for Kerala State
Figure 1 Location Map of India
Figure 2 Important Wetland Areas
Figure 3 Distribution of Major Moist Forest Formations
Figure 4 Moist Forest Distribution for Kerala State
Figure 5 Coral Reefs of the Nicobar Islands
Figure 6 Turtle Nesting Sites for the Andaman Islands
Figure 7 Centres of Plant Diversity and Endemic Bird Areas
Figure 8 Protected Areas of India
Figure 9 Protected Areas of Kerala State
Table 1 Comparison Between the Number of Species in India and the World
Table 2 Globally Threatened Animalss Occurring in India by Status Category
Table 3 Summary of Plant Conservation Status Information at WCMC
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