Indian grasslands are a diverse and important ecosystem in the Indian subcontinent. They provide habitat for various species, as well as food and fuel for local communities. Indian grasslands are also an essential source of water, soil fertility, and carbon sequestration. In addition to their ecological value, these grasslands have cultural significance for many local communities.
Unfortunately, due to human activities such as overgrazing and deforestation, Indian grasslands are threatened by degradation and loss. Here are some of the biggest, rarest, and most endangered animals of the Indian Grasslands.
Large Grazing Animals
Indian elephants are one of the world's largest and most iconic land animals. They are native to the Indian subcontinent and have a long history of being revered by various cultures. Indian elephants have several unique characteristics, such as their large size, distinctive tusks, and unique trunk. They spend up to 19 hours per day eating, which results in up to 220 lbs of dung dispersed over areas of up to 125 sq. miles, a practice that helps germinate millions of seeds. Their primary diet consists of grass, though they also consume roots, bark, stems, and leaves (plus bananas, sugarcane, and rice if they're in the environment).
Sadly, only 20,000-25,000 of these animals remain, making them an endangered species. Two of the biggest threats these gentle giants face are habitat loss and ivory sourcing, both caused by human activity.
Gaur, also known as Indian bison, is a species of wild cattle native to India and Southeast Asia. It is one of the world's largest living wild cattle species, with bulls reaching heights of 220 cm and weighing up to 1,500 pounds. Gaur are highly social animals that live in herds of ten-plus animals (though some young bulls will live solitary lifestyles or form "bachelor groups"). As diurnal creatures, they are generally active during the morning and afternoon but will change their routine to avoid human contact.
They feed mainly on grasses plus eat leaves, fruits, and roots. They are an important part of the food chain in their habitats, providing food for predators such as tigers and leopards. Like the Indian elephant, Gaurs are threatened by habitat loss, which has already seen numbers drop below 35,000, with figures continuing to decrease.
The Indian rhino is one of the five species of rhinos found in the world. It is a large mammal found in parts of India and Nepal, inhabiting grassland and riverine forests. The Indian rhino is a solitary animal that prefers to stay alone except during mating season when males fight for dominance over females. Its diet consists mainly of grasses, leaves, and fruits from trees and shrubs. Young calves can be vulnerable to tiger attacks, but the vast size of an adult rhinoceros means it faces few natural predators. Like many other gentle grazers of the grasslands, human activity is the biggest threat to these beautiful creatures.
Indian water buffalo, also known as the river buffalo, is integral to Indian culture and tradition. It is a large mammal that has been domesticated for centuries and is used for agricultural purposes such as plowing fields, hauling carts, and providing milk. The Indian water buffalo can be found in India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. It is considered one of India's most important domestic animals and plays an integral role in Indian society.
Its name comes from a tendency to bathe in muddy waters to regulate body temperature, and they are considered the world's largest bovine creatures, weighing up to 2,650 lbs.
Pallas cats, also known as 'manul,' are a unique species of wild cat found in the grasslands and steppes of central Asia. They are about the size of a house cat but with a thick fur coat and distinctive facial features that give them an adorable appearance. Among their most recognizable features are rounded ears set low on their heads; the reason is to help them maintain good cover when hiding or hunting. Another feature that distinguishes them from other cats is rounded pupils (most cats possess slit-like pupils)
Pallas cats are nocturnal hunters that feed on small mammals like rodents and birds, though up to 50% of their dietary intake comes from "pika," a small mammal. These cats generally live to around eight years in the wild as they are vulnerable to predators and traps, but their lifespan can exceed 12 years in captivity.
Caracal, also known as the desert lynx, is a medium-sized carnivore in Africa and parts of the Middle East. It has long legs and a streamlined body, with distinctive black tufts on its ears. It is an agile hunter that is not fussy about what it eats, seizing many animals as prey, including rodents, mongooses, hyraxes, dik-diks, and monkeys. Caracals are solitary animals that prefer to hunt alone at night; they are also good climbers and can leap up to 3 meters into the air to catch their prey. With their sharp claws and powerful jaws, caracals make formidable predators in their natural habitat.
Striped hyenas are a species of carnivore found in the deserts and semi-arid regions of North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia. These creatures are neither cats nor dogs; instead, they are the smallest of the four hyena species and have a distinctive black-and-white striped pattern on their fur.
Striped hyenas feed on small mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, carrion, and even human garbage. They are also known to scavenge from predators like lions or jackals; their huge jaws help crush bones, horns, hooves, and teeth - body parts that other animals leave behind. Striped hyenas are solitary animals that live in underground dens and communicate with each other through vocalizations like howls and growls.
Critically Endangered Birds
Great Indian Bustard
The Great Indian Bustard is a bird found in the dry grasslands and scrub of India and Pakistan; it is among the largest and heaviest flying birds. As omnivorous creatures, they feed on various insects, rodents, reptiles, berries, and seeds. They have an impressive wingspan of over 2 meters and can weigh up to 15 kilograms. The Great Indian Bustard is a critically endangered species due to habitat loss and hunting. Conservation efforts are underway to protect this majestic creature from extinction.
Lesser floricans are the world's smallest bustard species, endemic to the Indian subcontinent. They are considered one of the most threatened species of birds in the world, with their population estimated to be less than 1,500 individuals. The main threats to their survival include habitat destruction, hunting, and predation by larger carnivores such as leopards and tigers. Conservation efforts have been put in place to protect this species from further decline.