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Like Africa's 'Big 5' Animals - India has it's 'Magnificent 7' species for Wildlife Tourism

This is an old post that I had written in my days of being a wildlife travel blogger and working with Wild Navigator

Sit back and enjoy this read !!

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Like Africa's 'Big 5' Animals - India has it's 'Magnificent Seven' species for Wildlife Tourism

Origin of Africa's Big 5


Copyright: Hu Chen @Unsplash.com

When we start researching about the Africa savannah, the continent and it's wilderness, the term 'Big 5 ' always seem to crop up. The establishment of the world's first national park was not in Africa but at Yellowstone in the United States of America in 1872. This was much earlier then expected as the prime origin of this national park was for recreational use and not for scientific research. Africa at that time was heavily into the hunting scene where species in the wild was taken as game - this is where the 'Big 5' terminology came into being. The origination was defined by 'Big Game Hunters' in Africa who shot game and the 'Big 5' were those mammal species which were difficult to capture by foot. 

The 5 mammal species in the African continent of the 'Big 5' Include: 

  1. African Elephant 
  2. Africa Rhino
  3. Cape Buffalo
  4. African Leopard
  5. African Lion



Using 'Big 5' as a Tourism Tool

The "Big 5" mammal species are widely spread in different countries of Africa. This includes: Namibia, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Botswana (although Rhino sighting has become rare) and Democratic Republic of Congo. As tourism in the African continent expanded, this "Big 5" terminology was barrowed for marketing the wilderness of Africa through Safari (mainly to view wild animals, to take photographs and experience the journeys into the wild). This terminology is commonly used by tourists and wildlife guides that discuss and experience African wildlife safaris. There is no guarantee that tourists will be able to to view these species on their safaris but the marketing of this term has had great benefits to the region.   


India's Wilderness Wealth

When we speak of a country that has richness in speciation and biodiversity wealth - it has to be India. Forest wealth takes about 1/5th of India's total land area with forest types ranging from Evergreen to Deciduous, Thorn to Mountains and Tidal forest habitats. The forest cover of India further categories into Very Dense, Moderately Dense , Open Forest , Scrubs and Non Forests. India hosts over 1100 avian birds and more than 400 mammal species. It is considered to be on of the richest mega diversity countries in the world. 


Being the seventh largest country in the world, with an increasing population growth of over 1.2 billion people, the demand for space, forest produce and other non sustainable factors puts enormous pressure on existing wilderness. Currently in the tourism sector it is the Tiger which is the only species that acts as a revenue generator and sadly other species are ignored by the industry. Other animals are not highlighted and given maximum attention for their survival in the wild. With this 'One Species' wonder  (the Tiger), there is enormous pressure by visitors on national parks and prime tiger habitats just to see a glimpse of this apex predator.  

India's Wild "Magnificent 7"

There are so many species in India that come to mind and can be listed on the "Magnificent 7" list. Using feedback from various stakeholders in the wildlife travel trade, local wilderness community, I came up with a conclusive aspect to select the 7 species. 

Specific factors that make our "Magnificent 7" species would be:

  • Being India's equivalent to Africa's "Big 5" species. 
  • For species conservation richness  / status and increase risk of extinction (View the IUCN Graph)
  • To have at least one of the 'Magnificent 7' species existing in any of India's protected areas / wilderness (widely spread).            



SO WHY THE NUMBER 7

The term "Magnificent 7" became famous in the 1960's by an American Hollywood western blockbuster. The film plays a group of seven American gunmen who are hired to protect a small agriculture village in Mexico. The group undergo various methods to save the village, knowing that being small in number they would be defeated. Keeping their faith and will to succeed, they outshine the bandits and free the village from all the problems. This is the same metaphor with wilderness in India where high human densities have taken over the last remaining wilderness habitats of our existing species. Their habitats are shrunk , giving no room for remaining wilderness. India being the seventh largest country in the world, we use India's 7 wildlife species to act as guardians of the remaining wilderness India has. Survival means everything to the country's biodiversity richness, the citizen's education/awareness and by using tourism as a tool for wildlife conservation and seeing these 'Magnificent 7' species exist in the wild for future generations. 

Just as Africa uses the concept of 'Big 5' to promote their wilderness travel industry, India and wildlife tourism industry should start using their 'Magnificent 7' for wildlife tourism rather than just the Tiger. 

India holds the African equivalent of their 'Big 5' species and can add two more species to the list. 

India's 'Magnificent 7' List  

1. Asiatic Elephant - is widespread in the North, North East and South of India. It's habitat ranges from the Himalayan foothills to Uttaranchal and to the North eastern state of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Garo/Khasi hills (Meghalaya), East to Orissa and West Bengal states, Jharkhand state of the central belt and finally the south Indian elephant population of the Western Ghats and the Indian state of Karnataka. The range and corridors are widely spread across the country. The Asiatic Elephant is one India's most magnificent wild species. The conservation status of the Asiatic Elephant is listed at Endangered. Prime decline of the Elephant population has been threatened due to habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation.   


2. Asiatic Lion - Similar to the African Lion in aggression but lighter and smaller in size, the only place in India where this endangered species is found is the Gir Forests of Gujarat in the western region of India. There are over 400 lions estimated living in a 545 sq. miles sanctuary with open deciduous and scrub habitat.  


3. Indian Leopard - The Indian Leopard's habitat was wide ranging across the country, but now the leopard distribution is radically narrowed down by human animal conflicts, poaching and loss of habitat. This species is listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN Red List. It is normally found in most of Indian forests and wilderness habitats. Adaptable to various habitats, it comes under constant conflicts near human settlements - largely attempting to prey on dogs and domestic livestock. Most leopard habitats are in competition with share space with another large species like the tiger or lion. This causes a sandwich between prime wilderness habitats on one side and cultivated village land on the other leading to an increase in conflicts. This species has a key role to play in the ecosystem and that is why reaches our 'Magnificent 7' list. 


4. Asiatic One horned Rhino - This is also known as the Indian Rhino or the greater one-horned rhinoceros. It is listed as a Vulnerable Species in the IUCN Red List. Confined to their riverine grassland habitats, the Indian one-horned rhino's range was widely distributed from Pakistan to the Indian-Burmese border including parts of Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan. Now with habitat loss and various other ecological changes, their remaining population now survives mainly in Southern Nepal belt, the Northern Uttar Pradesh and Dudhwa National Park, Northern Bengal and the Dooars region. The maximum population lives in the Brahmaputra Valley of Assam and its reserves. This species undoubtedly makes it to the list as India's similar to the African rhino.  


5. Asiatic Wild Water Buffalo - It is not closely related to the African Cape Buffalo, but an ancestor of the domestic water buffalo. It is larger in size to the African Cape Buffalo and is listed as Endangered in the IUCN Red List species status. Most of the wild population live in India and mainly the north eastern state of Assam.  The wild water buffalo species decline in population is mainly inbreeding with feral and domestic buffalos in and around protected areas, along with habitat loss (conversion of floodplains to agriculture land) and disease/parasites transmitted from domestic livestock.   

The Indian Gaur species was also considered for the list but due to the Water Buffalo being in critical conservation status this instead makes it to our 'Magnificent 7' list. 

Along with these 5 mammal species, India has two more to add to this list. 

6. Sloth Bear - This nocturnal species of bear is found in most parts of India, especially around areas of high forest cover.  They are one of the most widespread bear species and sometimes attacks humans that encroach on their territories. Over the years, humans have drastically reduced their habitats and diminished their population by hunting them for food and their body parts such as claws. These bears have a very tameable nature which has lead them being performing pets. Historically, they were used by the colonial British officers in India as pets and for entertainment. This form of practice became banned in 1972 and more recently in 2009, with great effort and several years of campaigning by a coalition of Indian and international animal welfare groups, the last dancing bear was set free from activities such as dancing on highways between Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. They have a great importance in the wild as their conservation status is Threatened (Vulnerable) and certainly the 6th contender of our 'Magnificent 7' list. 


7. Royal Bengal Tiger - Finally we have India's main apex predator: The Royal Bengal Tiger. This Tiger is a subspecies and in 2010 was classified as Endangered by the IUCN Red List. Adaptable to many terrains, their habitat ranges from tropical evergreen and dry forests, tropical and subtropical, moist deciduous forest, mangroves, upland forest and grasslands. In the past century, tiger numbers have fallen drastically due to high threats from poaching, habitat loss and hunting for the illegal species trade. Tigers need large territories to live, roam and survive - without any human interference. With extensive development occurring in their landscapes for agriculture, road works, hydro projects and timber extraction, the tiger territories across the country are shrinking. Their population is now estimated to be around 2900 in India and exist in 41 designated tiger reserves around India. These tiger reserves are governed and administered by the National Tiger Conservation Authority

Having the Royal Bengal Tiger in India's wilderness makes the country 'Incredible' and adds the final 7th member to our 'Magnificent 7' species list. 


So when you next visit a protected area / national park or any wilderness area in India, keep a watchful eye to view and learn more about these 'Magnificent' 7 species - also called the guardian of India's wild. 

Let us know what you feel about our 'Magnificent 7' wildlife species for India's wildlife tourism 


            

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