Ancient History of Indian Wildlife
Wildlife in India has been surviving since the Vedic period and a record of the existence of nearly 250 species of birds at the time have been obtained. This period ranges from 1500 BC to 500 BC. Information about wildlife belonging to this period is present in the medical treatises of Sushruta and Charaka. The blackbuck was quite common in 'Aryavarta' or the land of the Aryans, who 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. The 2000-year-old 'Gajashastra', which was written in Pali script, contains references to the training of captured elephants. Several animal bones, which existed prior to 1700 BC, have been discovered at the sites of Indus Valley Civilization. More specifically, the bones of elephants, chital, jackal, hare and rhinoceros have been discovered at the site. Clay tablets of this period depict species of elephant and rhinoceros, which have presently been labeled as ‘extinct’. Elephants are the earliest known Indian animals, which were employed to be mounted upon during battles. They acted as raised platforms during hunting and also as a status symbol during Harappan Civilization. A tiger seal as old as 3000 BC has been unearthed from Harappa. An animal known as 'Zebu' completely disappeared from the Indus basin and western India, probably on account of breeding with domestic cattle and the consequent loss of natural habitat.
During the 3rd and the 4th centuries BC, the rulers of Maurya dynasty altered their attitudes towards wild beasts, in their attempts to protect animals of forests. Vast number of lions, tigers and elephants were protected by the Mauryas. Elephants were emphasized upon the most, as they served innumerable purposes for the rulers, particularly during wars. Along with horses, elephants were treated royally. Elephants and horses had played crucial roles in the defeat of Alexander's general, Seleucus. Kautilya's 'Arthashastra' provide information about them. After embracing Buddhism, King Ashoka had implemented laws for the conservation of wild animals. Edicts of Ashoka claim that he made a rule, according to which people would be fined 100 'panas' for poaching deer inside the royal hunting grounds.
Medieval History of Indian Wildlife
Jahangir and Babur were amongst the Mughal emperors, who made regular observations of wildlife in their journals. Certain books suggest that lesser rhinoceros survived during the time, especially near Mahanadi River and Sunderbans, close to Bengal and also near Rajmahal Hills, close to Ganges River. Babur was fond of hunting and many animals were killed near Kolkata. Jahangir recorded the number of animals hunted by him. It was found that from his age of 12 to 48, he had hunted about 28,532 animals. About 35 swamp deer or 'mhaka', 889 blue bulls, 86 tigers, 9 foxes, otters, hyenas, leopards, etc were the victims. 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. A species namely, dodo was introduced in his court by the Portuguese, who were governing Goa at the time. An unsigned painting of this creature is said to have been accomplished by Mansur.
Modern History of Indian Wildlife
During the pre-colonial and post-colonial eras, various species of rare insects were brought to India, free of cost. 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 its predecessors. History of Indian wildlife shows that princes and middle-class Indians were 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. The second event was the unleashing of the widespread destructive forces, including the state-sponsored slaughtering of certain wild animals and the harnessing of forest for industrial raw materials and military supplies. Another event in the history of Indian wildlife was the creation of legal and governmental apparatus to administer large stretches of forest, eventually totaling around a fifth of India's total land area.
With independence, a dominant group emerged with a kinder and gentler approach to nature in India. 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.