India

Elephants in India Photo
Even under tremendous development pressures, India harbors an impressive array of wildlife including Asian elephants.
©Eleanor Briggs
India Person Photo
The Indian constitution specifies that “it shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment."
©Jim Large
Tiger in India Photo
The history of WCS research in India dates to the 1960s, when the first scientific study of wild tigers was begun.
©Ullas Karanth
Wildlife Crimes Unit Slideshow
Tigers are fast disappearing in the wild, due in large part to increasing illegal wildlife trade across Asia.  Our Wildlife Crimes Unit is working to support the arrest and prosecution of poachers and wildlife traders so that we can ensure a future for these cats in some of their last strongholds. Take a look at what WCS conservationists working throughout tiger territory have come across in their surveys and patrols.
©WCS
Tiger Rescue Operations Photo
Police display confiscated tiger skin with other seized animal skins and body parts in Indonesia. The country is Southeast Asia’s largest exporter of wildlife, both legal and illegal.
©WCS
Tiger Rescue Operations Photo
Many of the wildlife pelts and other items that are poached in Indonesia are part of complex trade chains, which often terminate in illegal markets in China.
©WCS
Tiger Rescue Operations Photo
The Wildlife Crimes Unit provides technical assistance to Indonesian police conducting anti-poaching raids.
©WCS Indonesia
Tiger Rescue Operations Photo
This tiger was caught in a snare in northern Sumatra, a hotspot for the big cats in Indonesia, and therefore a draw for poachers.
©WCS Indonesia
Tiger Rescue Operations Photo
In addition to tigers, tons of turtles are also exported from Indonesia on a weekly basis, and about 1.5 million wild-caught birds are sold in a market every year in Java.
©WCS Indonesia
Tiger Rescue Operations Photo
Tiger bones in Sumatra are sold as souvenirs and talismans, and ground up or boiled down for use as ingredients in traditional medicines.
©WCS Indonesia
Tiger Rescue Operations Photo
Tiger pelts are considered a status symbol by some and many wealthy people consume tiger products for purported medicinal qualities.
©WCS
Tiger Rescue Operations Photo
WCS conservationists in India calculate tiger numbers by setting up remote camera traps that photograph the big cats in the wild.
©Eleanor Briggs
Tiger Rescue Operations Photo
The camera trap technique is also used in the Russian Far East, where this Siberian tiger was photographed.
©WCS
Tiger Rescue Operations Photo
Tiger scat contains a unique DNA signature that gives researchers another way to accurately identify and count individual animals.
©S. Gopinth
Tiger Rescue Operations Photo
In the protected areas of India’s Western Ghats region, where WCS has worked for over 20 years, tiger populations are holding steady.
©Ullas Karanth
Tiger Rescue Operations Photo
Help the Wildlife Conservation Society save tigers in the wild by making a donation.
Julie Larsen Maher ©WCS

“Jungle”—the Hindi word for wilderness in India—was adopted into the English language, and over time has come to denote lush, tropical forests everywhere. Yet India’s diverse wilderness areas encompass far more. In addition to rainforests, they include moist and dry deciduous forests, thorn forests, deserts, mangroves, grasslands, and coniferous forests in the Himalayas, not to mention a variety of freshwater and marine habitats. India’s diverse landscapes are home to numerous threatened and critically endangered species, including the Asiatic lion, Asian elephant, tiger, white-rumped vulture, Asian one-horned rhinoceros, and water buffalo. Many species of deer, antelopes, wild dogs, cats, and bears also live here. Resident primates include macaques, the hoolock gibbon, slender and slow lorises, and the golden langur—one of the world’s rarest monkeys. Besides mammals, there is a vast and diverse array of reptiles, amphibians, and birds, some of which are still unknown to science.

India has a long conservation history and began setting up national parks and protected areas in 1935. Today the country has more than 600 protected areas, including wildlife sanctuaries, national parks, and Ramsar sites—which are wetlands of global significance. Though the country is rapidly urbanizing and modernizing, its culture is rooted in a worldview that considers humans as a part of nature. The large, charismatic mammals that live in close proximity to people are an integral part of their culture.

Fast Facts

  • India represents a mere 2.4 percent of the world’s area, but accounts for 7.3 percent of its faunal wealth.
  • The Indian constitution specifies that “it shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers, and wildlife and to have compassion for living creatures.”
  • Even under tremendous development pressures, India harbors an impressive array of wildlife. This is mainly due to its cultural and religious significance combined with a very strong legal and constitutional framework for wildlife protection, active judiciary, and a proactive civil society sector.
  • The natural heritage of India was made famous in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book and has had a profound impact on people’s perceptions of the country.

Challenges

Despite India’s traditional reverence for trees and animals, poverty in the densely-populated country, along with livelihoods predominantly based on natural resources, often lead to conflict between the priorities of people and the need for conservation. The greatest threats to wildlife are competition for resources and economic expansion in typically unsustainable ways to accommodate a growing human population. In recent decades, human encroachment has also posed a significant threat to the country’s wildlife. As a result, India’s tiger habitat has sharply declined, and its rhinos survive in only a few protected areas, while lions are restricted to a single site in Gir.

WCS Responds

The history of WCS research in India dates to the 1960s, when the first scientific study of wild tigers was begun. The WCS-India Program was formally launched two decades later. Today, the program focuses on the wildlife “stars,” such as tigers and elephants, in part to get the public to rally behind its efforts. WCS has done this through a systematic approach involving rigorous research, local capacity building, government consulting, and site-based conservation action.

As a result of our work to monitor tiger and their prey populations in the Malenad-Mysore Tiger Landscape in the Western Ghats—one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots—protected areas have been expanded and a strong local constituency in support of wildlife conservation has been created. In addition to our work with tigers, we are working to conserve the country’s Asian elephants by monitoring populations. WCS also monitors and studies human-wildlife conflicts to understand and mitigate them and to improve the overall conservation status of wildlife and their habitat in the Western Ghats.

WCS-India is also building a cadre of trained and professional wildlife biologists in India through an innovative graduate education program. This will help enhance the local capacity to deal with real-life conservation issues.

From the Newsroom

Counting Tigers by Their StripesMarch 6, 2014

In this video, Ullas Karanth, WCS Director for Science-Asia, explains a new and improved method to study tiger populations – counting their stripes.

Top Photos: 20 Years Camera-trapping India’s Elusive CarnivoresJanuary 29, 2014

India is a haven for elusive animals, with close to 50 species of wild carnivores. Krithi Karnath, WCS Associate Conservation Scientist, takes a look back at 20 years of successful camera trapping by the WCS-India Program.

More Than Hope for Tigers January 10, 2013

After revealing that tigers are roaring back in three landscapes where WCS works, our CEO penned a blog for the Huffington Post relaying his recent trip to India. While there, Dr. Samper observed a wild tigress--whose presence reflects a significant increase in tiger numbers in South India. 


Tigers Roar Back December 24, 2012

Despite dangerously low global numbers, tigers are rebounding in three significant landscapes where WCS operates. Success in India, Thailand, and Russia fosters hope for these iconic big cats.

The Fight to Save the TigerMarch 21, 2012

Scientists and government officials from across the world come to India’s Nagarahole National Park to learn how tiger champion and WCS Senior Scientist Ullas Karanth has reversed the tide for this big cat on the brink.

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