ORIGIN OF AFRICA’S ‘’BIG 5’’ -
When we start researching about the Africa savannah, the continent and its wilderness, the term ”Big 5” always seems 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 were 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 Africa continent included:
1. African Elephant
2. African 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 borrowed for marketing the wilderness of Africa through safaris (mainly to view wild animals, to take photographs and experience the journey 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 view these species on their safaris but the marketing of this term has had great financial 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 Mountain and Tidal forest habitats. The forest cover of India further categorise into Very Dense, Moderately Dense, Open Forest, Scrubs and Non Forests. India hosts over 1100 avian birds and more then 400 mammal species. It is considered to be one of the richest mega diversity countries of 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 species.
INDIA’S WILD ”MAGNIFICENT 7”
There are so many species in India that come to mind and can be listed on the ”Magnificent 7”. Using feedback from various stakeholders in the wildlife travel trade, local and wilderness community, Wild Navigator came to a conclusion on aspects to select the 7 species.
The term ”Magnificent 7” has been taken to showcase India’s prime mammal species on specific individual factors:
- Being India’s equivalent to Africa’s ”Big 5”.
- For species conservation richness / status and increasing risk of extinction (view IUCN Graph)
- To have at least one of the ”Magnificent 7” species existing in any Indian protected areas / wilderness
SO WHY THE NUMBER 7 ?
The term ”Magnificent Seven” became famous in the 1960’s by an American hollywood western blockbuster. The film plays a group of seven American gunman who are hired to protect a small agricultural 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 out-shine the bandits to free the village from problems. This is the same metaphor with wilderness in India where high human densities have taken over the last remaining wilderness habitats that exist currently. Their habitats have shrunk, giving no room for remaining wildlife. Being the seventh largest country in the world, we use India’s 7 wild species to act as guardians for India’s remaining wilderness. Survival means everything to the country’s biodiversity richness, the citizen’s education/awareness and by using tourism as a tool for wildlife conservation to be able to see all these magnificent species exist in the wild for future generations.
Just as Africa uses the concept of ‘’Big 5’’ to promote their wilderness travel industry, India should start using their ”Magnificent 7” rather then just the Tiger. India holds the African equivalent of the ”Big 5” species and can add two more species to the list.
It is magnificent to view these wildlife species in “Incredible India’’. They sum up India’s Wild ‘’Magnificent 7’’ for Wildlife Tourism. This is why the wildlife tourism industry needs to start acting quickly and use this proposed concept of ”Magnificent 7” accepted by many industry stakeholders.
INDIA’S ”MAGNIFICENT 7” LIST -
1. Asiatic Elephant - is widespread in the North, North East and South of India. Its habitat ranges from the Himalayan foothills of Uttaranchal to the north eastern states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Garo / Khasi hills (Meghalaya), East to Orissa and West Bengal states, Jarkhand state of central eastern belt and finally the south Indian elephant population of western ghats and the Indian state of Karnataka. The range and corridors are widely spread across the country. The Asiatic Elephant is one of 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. Habitat loss of the Gir Forests is due to human pressures of cattle grazing and firewood extraction which has further resulted in decline of the lion’s prey base and indirectly affecting the lion’s existence.
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 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 and share space with other large species like the tiger and 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 the ‘‘Magnificent 7” list.
4. Asiatic One horned Rhino – This is also know 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 is 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. Asian 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 through interbreeding with feral and domestic buffalos in and around protected areas, along with habitat loss (conversion of floodplains to agriculture lands) and disease/parasites transmitted from domestic livelihood.
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 the ”Magnificant 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 attack 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 products such as claws. These bears have a very tameable nature which has lead to them being performing pets. Historically, they were used by 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 forests, mangroves, upland forests 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 1,500 – 1,900 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 add’s this final 7th member to the ”Magnificent 7” 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 7 guardians of the wild: the ”Magnificent 7” of India’s Wildlife Tourism.——— Wild Navigator would like to thank Aditya ”Dicky” Singh in contributing pictures to this post.