The Indian subcontinent is one of the most rewarding regions of the world to visit. From the arid Himalayan plateau to the swamps of Kaziranga, and from the deserts of Rajasthan to the tropical backwaters of Kerala, the breath of India's range of habitat is only equalled by the biodiversity that it supports.
India has 80 national parks including 23 tiger reserves and more than 440 sanctuaries. More than 350 different mammals and 1,220 birds, 1600 species of reptiles and amphibians and 57,000 species of insects populate the Indian subcontinent.
Many of these creatures are unique to the subcontinent, such as the White Tiger, Royal Bengal Tiger, Asian Lion, Lion-Tailed Macaque, Andaman Teal, Great Indian Bustard, and Monal Pheasant. India Harbours 60% of the world's wild Tiger population, 50% of Asian Elephants, 80% of the one-horned Rhinoceros and the entire remaining population of the Asiatic Lion.
Before 1947, India did not protect its wildlife. By 1952, 13 species had been declared endangered, and today the list has multiplied to 70 species of mammals, 16 species of reptiles and 36 species of birds. Tigers, the symbolic mascot of India, were killed so frequently that by 1970, only 1,500 remained. In 1972, the Indian government finally passed the Wildlife Act, which designates natural parks and sanctuaries and provides for the protection of wild animals, particularly endangered species. Three years later, Project Tiger, a large-scale enterprise co-sponsored by India's Department of Wildlife and the World Wildlife Fund was formed to ban killing of tigers and to save its vanishing home. In the process, innumerable other animals received protection, including the Asian Eephant and the great one-horned Rhinoceros. The presence of the Tiger in the chosen habitat indicates that the ecosystem is vibrant, and their number has risen to over 4,000 now. By any measure, Project Tiger must be seen as one of Asia's most successful conservation sagas and the tiger a symbol of the health of the Indian jungle.
India is also attempting to recover a third of its land with forests-a daunting task that requires more than saplings. The rural poor must find viable fuel sources to replace wood, and a humane initiative is needed to control the movement of aging livestock, including the sacrosanct cow.
Still, many of India's parks and sanctuaries are enchanting. If you have a safari in mind, remember that many of India's animals are elusive, moving in small packs. Come with the proper expectations and you will see many animals: numerous species of Deer, Wild Boar, Langur of all kinds, and spectacular birds. Jungle excursions are in mornings and evenings in open jeeps and on elephant backs with accompanying local naturalists.