10 Indian Species That Won’t Go Down Without A Fight

Conservation success stories that give us reason to hope.

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The lions of Gir are a brilliant conservation story. Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee

There are a fair number of debates and discussions every day about wildlife and their environment. Reports of fluctuating tiger numbers, biodiversity threatened by metro constructions, baffling global warming and climate change, environment budgets slashed. There may be a lot of bad news, but there’s good in that, too. Discussions on the wild are more visible than before, and there are some stellar groups of people working in the field that ensure that it stays that way. The tiger may well be the species that captures all the headlines, but here’s a look at other species that are refusing to go out without a fight. This is by no means a comprehensive list, which just means you’ll have to keep watching this space for more good news.

Asiatic Lion in Gir National Park

The revival of the Asiatic lion has been a rare conservation success story, one that has pulled this majestic animal back from the brink of extinction. Gujarat’s Gir National Park and its lions are an example of a collective effort from the forest department, the local communities and specialists working in the field. The numbers boggle the mind—from less than 50 individuals in the early 20th century to more than 411 lions now. A story on the park was carried in the March/April 2014 issue of Saevus Magazine, where Dr Sandeep Kumar, Indian Forest Service officer serving as Deputy Conservator of Forest in Gir National Park and Sanctuary, and Dr Shamshad Alam, wildlife biologist from the Department of Wildlife Sciences, wrote about the increase in numbers, core habitats of the lion populations and corridors, and how lions are capturing new territories outside Gir.

IUCN status: Vulnerable

One-Horned Rhino in Kaziranga National Park

Rhino Kaziranga

The one-horned rhino numbers prove that the animal is in no hurry to go anywhere. Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee

The powerful one-horned rhino is another excellent conservation story. Bibhab Kumar Talukdar, CEO of Aaranyak, and chair of the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Asian Rhino Specialist Group says, “We have been supporting rhino conservation in Assam by providing equipment to rhino-bearing areas. At the beginning of the 19th century, it was believed that there were about 20 rhinos left in Kaziranga. Since then, the rhino population stands at 2,329 in 2013. The Assam Forest Department has been successful in increasing the population of rhinos with support from local people and other conservation organisations.” WWF-India, which has been working on rhino conservation for decades, shared statistics that show rhino figures at 2,731 across India in 2012. These are all very good reasons to celebrate.

IUCN status: Vulnerable

Batagur Baska in the Sundarbans & Batagur Kachuga in River Chambal

The batagur baska is the second most endangered turtle species in the world. Shailendra Singh, Director, Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA), India, says, “The conservation program started with less than 50 breeding adults in four different places four to five years ago. We didn’t encounter specimens in fish markets, nor field surveys from 2008-2010 in West Bengal and Orissa. A few individuals were found from a research station within the Sunderbans, and a captive breeding program was initiated by TSA and Zoo Vienna at Bhawal in Bangladesh, and later at Madras Crocodile Bank Trust (MCBT). As of March 2015, there is a surviving population of 50 adults and more than 350 juveniles. 

IUCN status: Critically endangered

Bayagur Kachuga

The beautiful batagur kachuga, the red-crowned roofed turtle. Photo: Sheena Koeth

Terrapin India

The beautiful pink turtle, batagur baska (northern river terrapin). Photo: Shailendra Singh


The batagur kachuga was wiped out from the entire Gangetic drainage, and is found only on the Chambal River that flows through Uttar Pradesh (UP), Madhya Pradesh (MP) and Rajasthan. According to Singh, less than 500 females were feared to exist in this river when TSA started work in 2005. With the help of the state forest departments over the years, over 10,000 hatchlings were released from 30 hatcheries and 1,000 hatchlings received a head start for population recovery. There is indication of recovery on other sites as well.

IUCN status: Critically endangered

Barasingha in Kaziranga National Park

Barasingha India

The twelve-tined deer, aptly called barasingha. Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee

While tourists may travel to national parks for the big cats, glimpsing this beautiful deer’s antlers rising through tall grass is a treat. In fact, the deer is named after the unique tines in its antlers (twelve-tined, bara-singha). Dr. M.K. Ranjitsinh (Ph. D), conservationist and a principal author of the Wildlife (Protection) Act (1972), says, “Of the three subspecies of this animal, the numbers of the eastern subspecies or Ranjitsinh’s barasingha had been reduced to less than 300 in the 1970s and were until recently confined to Kaziranga National Park in Assam.  With the help of strict protection and surveillance, numbers have increased to 850 and 19 have just been transferred in collaboration  with the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) for reintroduction into their former habitat in the Manas Tiger Reserve.” 

The southern subspecies on the other hand, or Brander’s barasingha have been confined to the Kanha National Park in MP for the last five decades.  According to Ranjitsinh, “In 1967, there were only 64 individuals in the world.  A large enclosure was made in Kanha and a small herd driven in, which grew to over 30.  Meanwhile, the translocation of villages within an extended Kanha park provided increased habitat to this gravely endangered deer, which repopulated these now-vacated grasslands. The deer from the enclosure were translocated to Supkhar, a further addition to Kanha. The current population of this subspecies is about 480.”

IUCN status: Vulnerable

Gharial in Chambal River

Gharial India

A breeding gharial group. Photo: Shailendra Singh

In the mid-1970s, there were very few fragment groups of gharials. Programmes to stop this crocodile species on its certain path to extinction began in earnest. Hatchlings were supplemented back into the wild and over time, this led to at least one viable population of over 500 adults surviving on the Chambal River—which is also the largest population of gharials surviving in the wild in the world—besides the satellite populations in Corbett, Katerniaghta and Mahanadi. Even organisations like WWF-India have worked tirelessly to support this fight. According to TSA, the road ahead will see reintroduction in upper Ganga, Rapti and Ghagra. Gharials have seen a massive recovery through captive breeding programmes and facilities like the Kukrail Rehabilitation Centre in UP and the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust, which initiated the GSA (Gharial Survival Alliance) along with the Forest Departments of Rajasthan, UP and other partner organisations that have played vital roles in the species success story.

IUCN: Critically endangered

Whale Shark off Gujarat

whale shark

Whale sharks are called gentle giants. Photo: Cecile G/ Flickr/ Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

The whale shark is the largest fish in the world, and although not technically an Indian species, it is a frequent visitor to India. Sajan John, Marine Head, WTI, says, “Due to hunting for its valuable fins and liver, numbers started to decline globally. In May 2001, the intense fishing pressure along the coastal state of Gujarat led the Government of India to list the whale shark in Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. It also received international protection due to its inclusion in Appendix II of the Convention in International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

In 2004, the Whale Shark Conservation Project was initiated by WTI in association with Gujarat Forest Department. The project laid emphasis on generating baseline information on whale shark population, ecology and migration with the active participation of coastal fishing communities, including the launch of the  Self Documentation Scheme. From the initiation of the project until December 2014, 472 whale sharks have been rescued and released. There have been no cases of slaughter or killing for commercial or non-commercial use.

IUCN status: Vulnerable

Amur Falcon in Nagaland

Amur Falcon Nagaland

The Amur falcon is a success story that unifies local communities, NGOs and the forest departments. Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee

Amur falcons also aren’t endemic to India; they use Nagaland as a roosting site on their way from Mongolia to South Africa. It was here that these birds were massacred in massive numbers for meat and trade. Ramki Sreenivasan, wildlife photographer and founder of Conservation India and Shashank Dalvi, a research associate with the Centre for Wildlife Studies, have worked with local communities and a local NGO, Nagaland Wildlife and Biology Conservation Trust, and the Nagaland Forest Department. For the last two years, WTI has been working in Wokha District in collaboration with the Nagaland Forest Department, Natural Nagas, Pangti Village Council and Amur Falcons Roosting Areas Union (AFRAU). Efforts have come in from other organisations including BirdLife International and Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) and this collective strength led to an anti-hunting resolution passed by the villages of Ashaa, Pangti and Sungro, and no falcons were killed in 2013. Pangti won an award from the Balipara Foundation in 2014, adding another feather in its already full cap.

IUCN status: Least Concern

Amur Falcon Nagaland

The sky is filled with the flight of the Amur falcons. Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee

Hornbills in Arunachal Pradesh

The forests of Arunachal Pradesh were facing severe threats from local hunting and logging. The four resident species of hornbills were especially casualties in large numbers. In 2011, scientists and forest officers put the Hornbill Nest Protector’s Team together. This 11-member team worked to bring down the mortality rate of these birds. After locating and monitoring nests for three years, the team managed a 90 per cent nesting success in the last two. At the first Pakke Paga festival in 2015, Aparajita Datta from the Mysore-based Nature Conservation Foundation said, “The festival aims to promote the role played by the Nyishis in conservation. Not that the hornbill hasn’t seen protection here before as well.

Pygmy Hog in Manas Tiger Reserve

The pygmy hog is the smallest and the most rare wild pig in the world. Previously found in a narrow strip of tall and wet grassland plains in the area south of Himalayan foothills from UP to Assam, through Nepal terai and Bengal duars, today, it is restricted to a single viable population in the wild in Manas Tiger Reserve. Dr. Goutam Narayan (Ph. D), Project Director, Pygmy Hog Conservation Programme with EcoSystems-India and Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust says, “A couple of reintroduced populations exist in Sonai Rupai Wildlife Sanctuary and Orang National Park, all in north‐western Assam, and nowhere else in the world. Current population estimates in Manas indicate that less than 200 hogs may survive in the last original population, which had almost double the number in the mid‐1990s. About 50 hogs are maintained in captivity and 85 captive‐bred hogs have been released in the wild since 2008.”

IUCN status: Critically Endangered. It is also listed in Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act

Great Indian Bustard in Rajasthan

Great Indian Bustard Rajasthan

Rajasthan’s state bird, the great Indian bustard, needs all the help it can get. Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee

If there’s a species that needs our help to join the ranks of the success stories, it is the great Indian bustard. It was estimated to be around 1,200 in 1980, 300 in 2011-12 and now there are less than 300. Dr. Pramod Patil, a doctor by training but a conservationist by profession, says, “Conservation is certainly an uphill task as this species lives in a landscape dominated, altered and exploited by people for various human-centered practices. It is losing its habitat and there is little or no scope to change the liveilhood pattern and practices of the large numbers of people that exist on the great Indian bustard’s landscape. Developmental activities such as laying down power-lines are taking a heavy toll and pesticides are a growing concern. If we lose this bird, it shall be largest species India will have lost after the Asian cheetah, and Rajasthan will be the only political entity in India to have lost its state bird.” Organisations that are working for this species are the BNHS, BirdLife International, the Royal Society for Protection of Birds and the Wildlife Institute of India.”

IUCN status: Critically endangered




  • Sejal Mehta is a writer and editor. She is consultant editor at Marine Life of Mumbai, and writes about science, wildlife, travel, fiction and is a published author of children's books. Her past work includes Lonely Planet Magazine India, National Geographic Traveller India, Nature inFocus.


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