(Last Updated on : 25/02/2014)
of Indian wildlife
is said to be a significant mix of events as well as people, of forests and species, land and populations, of exploitation and protection. History of Indian wildlife is also about nature and how people feared and respected it and then eventually tried to dominate it. It is believed that history of wildlife is often associated with long names and dates and with news of rare species or conflicts over threatened habitats. The stripping of natural vegetal cover over the past two centuries has been on a high scale, even though if much has vanished, much remains. History of Indian wildlife shows that even a generation back, princes, and middle-class Indians, contended with the British as far as hunting
was concerned. As per historical records the royal hunt became an indispensable part of every ruler
`s skill range and was adopted sincerely by the British rulers.
Ancient History of Indian Wildlife
Wildlife in India has been surviving since the Vedic Period
dating back to 1500 BC to 500 BC, and records of nearly 250 species of birds
which existed during that time have been obtained. The blackbuck
was quite common in `Aryavarta` or the land of the Aryans
which were present in the northern part of the Vindhya Mountains
and even those which extended till the south. The House Crow and Indian Koel were commonly noticed at that time. Information about wildlife belonging to this period have been existent in the medical treatises of Sushruta
. The 2000-year-old `Gajashastra` which was written in Pali script
contains references of the training of elephant
s which were often captured. Several animal
bones have been discovered in the sites of Indus Valley Civilisation
which existed prior to 1700 BC and they include the bones of Elephants, Chital, Jackal, Hare and Rhinoceros
. Clay tablets of this period have depicted a particular species of Elephant and Rhinoceros which are presently extinct and a tiger seal of 3000 BC have been unearthed from Harappa
. An animal known as `Zebu` has completely disappeared today, from the Indus basin and western India, probably on account of breeding with domestic cattle and the consequent loss of natural habitat. Elephants were the earliest known Indian animals which were employed to be mounted upon during battles, a raised platform used in hunting and also as a status symbol during the age of Harappan Civilization.
During the 3rd and the 4th centuries BC, the rulers of Maurya Dynasty
altered their attitudes towards wild beasts who made attempts to protect animals of forests. Elephants were emphasized upon the most, as they served innumerable purposes for the rulers, particularly during wars. Apart from horses, elephants were also treated royally, for this reason. Elephants and horses played crucial role in defeat of Alexander`s general Seleucus. One can derive information about them in Kautilya`s `Arthashastra
`. Vast number of Lions, Tigers and Elephants were protected by the Mauryas. However. King Ashoka
, after he had embraced Buddhism
implemented laws for the conservation of wild animals. The edicts of Ashoka claim that he made a rule which fined 100 `panas` to people who poached deer
inside the royal hunting grounds.
Medieval History of Indian Wildlife
were amongst the Mughal emperors
who made regular observations of the amount of wildlife in their kingdoms in their journals. Certain books suggest that Lesser Rhinoceros survived during that time especially near Mahanadi River
, close to Bengal and also near the Rajmahal Hill
s near Ganges River
. Many of these animals were killed near Kolkata
and Babur was fond of hunting them down. Jahangir recorded the number of animals hunted by him and from his age of 12 till 48, he had hunted about 28,532 animals by his own efforts. About 35 Swamp Deer
or `Mhaka`, 889 Blue Bulls, nine Foxes, Otters, Hyenas and Leopards and 86 Tigers were included in that list. It is believed that Ustad Mansur who was a court artist of Jahangir in the 17th century, had painted a wonderful portrait of a Siberian Crane. The Dodo was introduced in his court through the Portuguese who was governing Goa
during that time. An unsigned painting
of this creature which is said to have been accomplished by Mansur.
Modern History of Indian Wildlife
Various species of beautiful and rare insects were brought to this country during the pre-colonial and post-colonial era, free of cost. The various broad surveys of the past clearly illustrate that across the centuries, the forest has been seen by rulers in various ways. Like for instance, it was seen as a place of scenic beauty; or as the site of great hunts, with their close similarities to warfare. But for many more people, the vast grassland and forests were also a home and a resource catchment area. Two clear events mark the history of Indian wildlife. Firstly the impacts of the British, whose intrusions into the world of the wild were far more extensive than those of their predecessors.
And second one was the unleashing of widespread destructive forces, including the state-sponsored slaughter of certain wild animals and the harnessing of the forest for industrial raw material and military supplies. Some of these were not new, however the scale and intensity of the impact was without any equivalent. As a result, about a hundred years ago, even species that were a well-known part of the landscape in large areas of the country began to recede into plain memory. The second major event in the history of Indian wildlife was the creation of legal and governmental apparatus to administer large stretches of forest, eventually totalling around a fifth of India`s total land area.
With the independence of the country a dominant group emerged with a kinder and gentler approach to nature. However, the legacy of the control system remained despite major changes. The vast history of Indian wildlife signifies that much of the future relies on the reforms or restructures of the system and protection of nature`s heritage.