Here is an essay on the ‘Peninsular Indian Sub-Region’ especially written for school and college students.
This sub-region was once linked by the continuous woodland savannah with the Ethiopian region of North Africa. Desert barriers now separate the two areas but the faunas retain certain similarities with the animals such as the lion, cheetah, leopard, hyaena, jackal and many species of antelopes.
Peninsular India is the true home of the Indian fauna. Most of the Indian wild animals are found in this part and it comprises of the Deccan plateau extending northwards into the flood plains of the Indo-Gangetic basin and westwards into the Great Thar desert of Rajasthan.
Hence, two broad zones in this sub-region can be categorized such as Peninsular India characterising tropical deciduous woodlands extending into the drainage basin of the Ganges river system and the Desert Region of Rajasthan or the Thar connecting salt-flats of Little Rann of Kutch as well as desert-fringe.
(i) Peninsular India & the Drainage Basin of Ganges:
This is the home of tropical moist deciduous to tropical dry deciduous and scrub vegetation depending upon the variations in rainfall and humidity. The northern and eastern extensions having relatively higher rainfall have sal as the predominant species while the southern plateau is characterised by teak as the principal species.
The Western Ghats and the Central Belt lying to the west of it, is a region of very high rainfall and is characterised by evergreen vegetation, its flora and fauna being akin to the evergreen rain forests of north-eastern India. In the drier north-western portions, bordering the Rajasthan desert and the Aravalli hills, the trees are more scattered and thorny scrub species predominate.
The forest gives way to more open savannah habitat. The areas are also subjected to recurring fires and grazing which have resulted artificial spread of savannah at the expense of the monsoon forest. Waterholes or perennial pools of water are the common feature of the deciduous condition.
The open and deciduous nature of the forest, with a large number of trees being of low height, makes conditions more favourable for herbivorous ungulates. The seasonal nature of food-supply also favours larger ungulate species that can build up reserves to tide them over the long lean months. The area, therefore, has the potential of supporting a high ungulate biomass.
The larger inhabitants of the Indian deciduous forests are animals that are more widely spread in the rain forest. Elephant, Muntjak (Barking deer), Sambhar and Wild Boar occur in both habitats. The Gaur, the huge characteristic bovid of Central India has its counterparts in rain forests of Malaya, where it is called Seladang.
India has also its own species of Mouse Deer closely related to those of South-East Asia. In addition, peninsular India has several species of deer and antelope that do not occur in the rain forests further east. The most attractive of these is Cheetal deer which is both grazier and browser and has a high breeding-potential.
A smaller relative-stockier of this deer is the Hog Deer, but it prefers swampier meadows and is found more in the tarai belt of the Himalayan Foothills. Another deer which shows preference for moist river valley meadows is the Swamp Deer or Barasingha which is a large deer and the stag has five antlers containing up to 12 points.
A sub-species of this deer, Hard-ground Baransingha, is now confined only to the Kanha National Park in central India (Madhya Pradesh). The Sambhar is the largest of all Indian deer and has a very wide range of distribution ranging from the thorny scrub forest of eastern Rajasthan to semi-evergreen forest in eastern India and from the foothills-of Himalaya in the north to the tip of the Indian Peninsula in the south. It lives in small herds, mostly nocturnal and mainly browser.
Antelopes and other bovids are present in the Indian Peninsula. One woodland species of Indian antelopes called Four-horned Antelope (Chowsingha) has the unique distinction of having two pairs of horns, two small horns at the front and two larger horns at the back.
Two large antelopes, Nilgai and Blackbuck, also inhabit the open habitats in the deciduous woodlands but are more characteristic of the semi-desert and arid areas. Chinkara (Indian Gazelle) is the smallest of the antelopes which lives in small parties and prefers more open habitats.
There are three main predators of the Indian woodlands such as Wild Dog or Dhole, Leopard and Tiger. The Dhole also characterizes the rain-forest environment. The Indian Leopard belongs to the same species as those that inhabit the rain-forests but they are generally spotted rather than the melanic or black panther form of south-east Asia.
The most famous animal of forests of Peninsular India as well as the Himalayan Foothills is the Tiger. It is India’s “National Animal”. Though believed to have its origin in the Palaearctic realm, the Indian Tiger or Royal Bengal Tiger, as it is more often called, is recognized as the subspecies (Panthera tigris tigris) among the 8 races of the tiger that are recognised all over its range of distribution in the Palaearctic and the Oriental regions.
The other two big Savannah cats of Peninsular India, the Cheetah or hunting Leopard and the Lion also had their origin outside India in the Ethiopian region. The Cheetah is the fastest moving land animal (up to 100 km per hour). Unfortunately, the cheetah is now extinct in India.
The last reliable mention of a live wild cheetah was made by K.M. Kirkpatrick who reported seeing one on the road near Chandragiri in a low hill tract in the heart of South India on the night of 28-29 March, 1952 while he was out driving. The Asiatic Lion like its African cousins is an animal of the open savannah. It is slightly heavier in built than the African.
The young’s are spotted, the adults have bigger tail tufts and the males have shorter manes. Unlike the tiger which is a solitary animal, lions are social animals. They live in family groups called “prides”. Hunting is mainly done by the females.
The lion once had wide range of distribution throughout Western and Central India going across to Persia, Arabia and the Middle East; but now it has disappeared from all its previous range and is confined to a small pocket of the Gir forests (Gir National Park) in the junagarh district of Gujarat State in Western India in the whole Asiatic continent and that’s why called as Asiatic Lion.
Two other carnivores of African origin are the Striped Hyaena and jackal. Both are scavengers, feeding on the remains of tiger-kill, waiting for the bigger predators to move away so that to feed on the remains.
The Elephant which has a wide distribution in the Himalayan tarai is missing from most of the Central Indian plateau particularly the states of Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra but reappears in Karnataka, Kerala and Tami Nadu and extends into Ceylon. The biggest bovid of the Indian region (together with the Wild Buffalo) is the Gaur (Bos gaurus).
It has an extensive range covering the entire Central Indian plateau and extending north-eastern direction along the foothills of the Himalaya spreading to Burma and Malaya. In Malaya, it is called Seladang. The range of gaur in India is now confined to the Central India Plateau, Chhotanagpur area of Jharkand and parts of Orissa; in the South, it extends into the Western Ghats. Bandipur-Madhumalai National Park in the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu is the most famous for gaur.