Top 10 wildlife species of India
India is home to an astonishing variety of wildlife - from majestic big cats and shaggy sloth bears to one-horned rhino and endemic long-snouted crocodiles.
India's diverse wildlife
With a varied landscape of endless grassy plains, dense jungles, and towering mountain peaks, India provides the perfect habitat for a multitude of animals. Kings of the jungle stalk through the undergrowth, small mammals snooze in the treetops, and elusive felines blend in with their snowy surroundings. In the following list you will find some of our favourite wildlife species from this amazing country; a sighting of just one will truly enhance your Indian adventure. Current human development and population growth, as well as a long history of poaching has sadly resulted in the vulnerable or endangered status of many of the animals on our list. However, large areas of India’s landscape are now protected regions and national parks, dedicated to the preservation of endemic and endangered species, which has seen the stabilisation or even the increase of population numbers among some species. If you are interested in seeing any of these incredible animals, contact us to organise a private tour to spot these species.
Best places to spot: Bandhavgarh, Kanha, Pench, Tadoba, Ranthambore
Reaching speeds of up to 40mph, as well as prowling undetected through the long grass, a sighting of one of these remarkable predators in action is an exciting addition to any Indian travel adventure. Perhaps unsurprising given their large size, but most adult tigers have over 100 stripes on their body, and the particular pattern is as unique to each tiger as our fingerprints are to us. Unfortunately, tigers share their habitat with one of the largest and most exponentially growing human populations in the world, threatening the survival of these majestic creatures due to poaching and habitat loss. In fact, global numbers of tigers dropped to a frighteningly low 3,200 in 2010, putting them on the endangered list. Luckily, India’s tiger population has seen a 30% rise in the last four years, thanks to dedicated conservation projects, providing hope for the future of this species. With 50 tiger reserves in India just waiting to be explored, you are certainly spoiled for choice. The tiger reserves of Central India, such as Bandhavgarh and Kanha, as well as Rajasthan's Ranthambore National Park, are considered some of the best because of their high density of tigers, offering a higher chance of seeing them. Not only this, but the incredible scenery, particularly the temple ruins where visitors frequently discover tigers lazing about, adds a stunning backdrop to your safari adventure.
Panthera leo persica
Best places to spot: Gir National Park
The smaller, very distant relations of the African lion, are the most endangered large cat species in the world. Asiatic lions also differ physically in terms of their smaller and darker mane, making their ears noticeably stand out, as well as a unique fold of skin that runs along the length of their bellies. These big cats are sociable creatures and can often be seen travelling or relaxing with other members of their pride. Although they are fast runners, they lack stamina and so rely on the element of surprise for catching their prey. Whilst they could once be found roaming around the vast expanse of land between Turkey and East India, today the few hundred that remain can only be found in the dry and deciduous Gir Forest in Gujarat. Their low numbers are the result of being hunted to near extinction, as well as facing natural threats such as disease. Sadly, the population count reached as low as 100 between 1968 and 1979, although their numbers have recovered slightly since then.
Best places to spot: Hemis National Park, Ladakh
A master of camouflage, the snow leopard is renowned for its elusive ability to slink through the snowy mountains without detection. The mythical status surrounding this beautiful feline attracts many travellers to their habitat, over 3,000m high in the rocky Himalayan region, in search of them. The light grey fur and darker rosettes help the snow leopard to blend in to the high-altitude landscape, and the faded light at dawn and dusk, when they are most active, helps them to blend into the elongated shadows cast by the mountains. Their ability to avoid discovery has meant that studies can only estimate that there are around 450-500 snow leopards in India. Whilst sightings of these regal creatures are famously rare, if you want to improve your chances then head to Hemis National Park in Ladakh. In particular, the Rumbak Valley within this region has been a lucky location for many travellers, especially in winter when the snow leopards follow their prey, on their own hunt for food, down into the lower valley areas. However, dwindling numbers of their prey has a knock-on effect on snow leopards numbers, and many are also killed by farmers when the leopards turn to livestock for a source of food.
Best places to spot: Kaziranga National Park
The second largest of the rhino species, weighing up to 2,700kg, the one-horned rhino is a formidable and impressive beast. Despite resembling a large armoured truck, these giants feed on leaves, shrubs, and other vegetation, using their horn (which alone weighs 3kg) to forage and move obstacles out of the way. When they’re not scouring the undergrowth for food, these semi-aquatic rhinos enjoy a refreshing swim or roll around in the mud wallows. The latter serves a dual purpose as an area for social interaction, as well as being a natural method to prevent themselves from overheating. Throughout local history they have been forced to become the entertainment for Mughal emperors by fighting elephants, which, combined with general hunting of the species, led to a close call with extinction. Today, around 3,500 one-horned rhinos have made northeastern India their home, with two-thirds of this population residing in Kaziranga National Park. This beautiful UNESCO world heritage site is an unbelievably biodiverse region, not only offering a high chance of seeing the rhinos but of seeing many other animals too. November to April is the best time to visit this area.
Best places to spot: Velavadar, Kanha, Bandhavgarh, Corbett
An incredibly distinctive feature of the male blackbuck is their long spiralling horns that extend in a v-shape from their head and can reach up to 70cm long. The white patches around their eyes, mouths, and on their underbelly provides a beautiful contrast with the rest of the males’ dark brown colouring. Whilst herds have been known to include up to several hundred animals, numbers of between 5-50 are more common. Admire them whilst they’re standing still and grazing as the blackbuck are the fastest antelope in the world, so you might only see their blurred outline once they start moving with a purpose. The blackbuck have evolved with this speed as a means of escaping their fast predators, and they often leap whilst they run to deter predators, who usually look for the weakest member of the herd. The grassy plains and thin forests they inhabit certainly provide the necessary space for them to sprint through. Previously occupying areas in Pakistan and Bangladesh, they have now been declared extinct in these regions, but in India you can even find a conservation park dedicated to protecting these antelope: the spacious Blackbuck National Park in Gujarat.
Best place to spot: Western Ghats, South India
A furry mane around their face and a long tail ending in a small black tuft swaying as they stalk across the land on all four limbs; the description certainly fits that of a lion. However, despite the similarities the lion-tailed macaque shares with the big cat, it is actually an old world monkey. Sometimes called the “wanderoo”, these are some of the smallest macaques and are endemic to the western Ghats of India. Unlike lions, both the male and female monkeys have the silvery mane and the species also have cheek pouches where they can store their food and continue to forage unimpeded. A large threat to the lion-tailed macaques survival is the exotic pet trade, where they are traded and sold, and being hunted for their meat. With less than 2,500 left in the wild, conservation efforts are much needed. Silent Valley National Park in Kerala, as quiet and tranquil as the name suggests, is filled with a surprising level of diversity, including the lion-tailed macaque. With a sense of antiquity ruminating through the misty mountains, this verdant landscape is the perfect place to go wildlife spotting.
Best places to spot: Singalila National Park (near Darjeeling, West Bengal)
A relative of the giant panda and the raccoon, this gorgeous russet-coloured creature enjoys a simple life in the treetops of India’s high altitude deciduous and conifer forests. The red panda is primarily found in the North-Eastern states of India, and is actually the state animal for Sikkim. Much like their larger, black and white cousins, a significant portion of their diet is bamboo; they typically eat at dusk having spent the day sleeping, slung contentedly over a branch. Their arboreal and eating habits are aided by a ‘false thumb’ which provides them with a greater grip of trees and bamboo stalks. Birds aren’t the only animals that twitter in this forest; the word is used to also describe the sound the red pandas make. Singalila National Park in the Darjeeling district offers the chance to see the pandas in a beautiful, undulating location. Why not even coincide your wildlife travel adventure here with International Red Panda day in September: a day to raise awareness for and to celebrate this adorable mammal.
Best places to spot: Satpura National Park
Despite its deceptive name, combined with its arboreal habits and long claws, the sloth bear is not related to the sloth in any way. It is believed that George Shaw mistakenly thought that the two species were related when classifying the animal in 1791, but the name remained even after it was realised that this was not the case and it was in fact just a bear. Their pale snout and long claws, however, are particularly effective for breaking up and reaching into termite mounds: their source of food. Unlike bear species from further north, the sloth bear, which is endemic to the Indian subcontinent, has no need to hibernate in the winter due to the warm climate of its tropical habitat. The sloth bear is also thought to have inspired Rudyard Kipling’s physical description of Mowgli’s friendly and furry companion, Baloo, in The Jungle Book. Whilst Satpura National Park is relatively unknown to many visitors, it is home to an incredible biodiversity, including its significant collection of sloth bears. Satpura is particularly special because it offers travellers the chance to partake in walking safaris in order to truly experience the world these creatures inhabit.
Rusty spotted cat
Best places to spot: Tadoba National Park, Maharasthra
Deceptively adorable, and nicknamed “the hummingbird of the cat world”, the rusty spotted cat is an agile and fierce predator, despite its petite size. Weighing between 0.9 - 1.6 kg it is one of the world’s smallest species of cat but, among its common diet of small mammals and rodents, it will often choose prey as large as a chicken. The size of their large, round eyes not only make them look particularly cute but are also essential for providing them with improved night vision. As nocturnal animals, well-adapted to camouflaging in India’s dry, wooded grasslands and scrublands, a sighting of these shy cats is very rare, but always worth a try. Their elusive nature also means that certain aspects of their behaviour remain unknown. Often hunted for their meat and fur as they are mistaken for leopard cubs, they are classed as ‘near-threatened’ by IUCN.
Best places to spot: Chambal river
This fish-eating crocodilian is distinctive because of its impressively long and thin snout lined with over a hundred teeth; the male gharial’s snout finishes in a unique bulbous knot, named ‘ghara’ after the India word for pot and giving this reptile its name. The ghara is an important part of the gharial’s mating ritual as the male uses it to make noise and blow bubbles, hopefully attracting a mate. They are well adapted to catching fish, using the sensory cells in their snout to pick up the vibrations of nearby fish in the water before snapping them up. Since the 1940s, the gharial’s numbers have decreased from 10,000 to less than 200, placing them on the brink of extinction. Whilst they could previously be found in rivers all across the Indian Subcontinent, today they are limited to the tributaries of the Ganges. Dams, fishing nets, and sand mining have disrupted their river habitat, and are the main causes of their severe population decline.
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