Discover unique and exotic wildlife in India and find out where they can be seen.
India’s exotic wildlife conjures images of dense jungle teeming with creatures, great and small. Even the English word ‘jungle’ is derived from the Hindi word for wilderness.
With a confounding number of habitats India’s biodiversity is one of the richest in the world. From wetlands and mangroves to deserts and forests, India hosts over 400 species of mammals and over 400 species of reptiles, with over 1,200 species of bird accounting for 12% of the world’s species.
1. Bengal Tiger
Over half the remaining wild Tigers in existence live in India with over 44 tiger reserves. Tigers are notoriously elusive and spotting one is not guaranteed. For your best chance, visit Ranthambore, Bandhavgarh or Kanha National Parks during the late dry season months of March to May when Tigers seek out water to drink and bush is sparser.
2. Wild bull gaur
Also known as the Indian bison, the Gaur is the world’s largest wild cow. They can be found grazing on wild grasses and the muscular bulk of the massive bulls is an impressive sight. Although there has been a sharp decline in numbers, national parks have stable populations and they can most easily be found in Nagarhole National Park south of Bangalore.
3. Indian One-horned Rhinoceros
The Indian One-Horned Rhinoceros is also known as the Greater One-Horned Rhinoceros. Almost the entire remaining population is found in north-eastern India's Assam state (and Chitwan National Park in nearby Nepal) and is best seen at Kaziranga National Park. Seeing wild rhinos up close at Kaziranga from the safety of elephant back safaris is one of India’s unforgettable wildlife experiences.
Native to the Indian Subcontinent, the Sambar is a large deer found mostly in central India and can easily be spotted at Kanha, Corbett, Ranthambore, Bandhavgarh, Kaziranga and Nagarhole national parks. The males’ antlers can grow up to a metre long. A favourite prey of Tigers, the Sambars harsh barking alarm cries are often the first sign of a big cat.
5. Indian Leopard
The Indian Leopard is widely distributed across India; however populations are vulnerable due to habitat loss and poaching. Many local residents are unaware that Leopards continue to survive within the urban areas of Delhi and Mumbai. Finding a Leopard in the wild is both challenging and awe-inspiring. The best national parks for Leopards are Nagarhole and Ranthambore, although specialty camps outside of national parks in Rajasthan virtually guarantee a sighting.
6. Indian Peacock
The Indian Peafowl or Blue Peafowl is celebrated in Indian mythology and is the national bird of India. The male peacock is brightly coloured, famous for its fan-like feathers with colourful eyespots. Mostly seen foraging on the ground of the open forest, they can fly and will roost in in tall trees. Expect to be woken by their loud call in rural Rajasthan and even in some cities such as Jaipur and Delhi.
The chital, also known as the Spotted Deer, is the most common deer species and is found in wooded areas. Chital have an interesting relationship with the Grey Langur, combining the Langur’s good eyesight and elevated perspective and the Chital’s good sense of smell to use each other for early predator detection. Chital are commonly seen in most Indian national parks.
8. Gray Langur
The Gray, or Hanuman Langur is regarded as sacred in Hinduism. They spend much of their time on the ground and are found most national parks in lightly-wooded areas as well as most cities and villages, munching crops and raiding merchants. Groups consist of 20 to 30 monkeys, with some as large as 100. Though fascinating to watch, beware of your belongings and never feed or tease them.
9. Painted Stork
The Painted Stork is a large wading bird named for its characteristic pink tertial feathers. They are found in the wetlands in most national parks, and even on city fringes, wading in shallow waters or in colonies nesting in trees. Painted Storks have only a small range and do not migrate, but can be seen soaring on thermals.
10. Indian Elephant
Elephants have a unique history in India with a crucial role in the religion, myths, history and cultural heritage. Elephants were domesticated in India as far back as 6000BC and remain a vital part of Indian culture today. In the wild the Indian Elephant is endangered, threatened by habitat loss and poaching. Living in grassland and forested areas your best chance of seeing one is at Nagarhole or Kaziranga.
The Gharial is native to India and is also known as the Gavial, and the Fish-Eating Crocodile. The global population is estimated at less than 235 and is listed as Critically Endangered. Reaching up to 6.25 metres (20 feet) in length the Gharial has a long thin snout for catching fish. Now found only in a couple of isolated central Indian rivers, Gharial are best seen at Corbett National Park or the wild Chambal River east of Agra.
12. Marsh Mugger Crocodile
Another animal that features heavily in Indian mythology is the crocodile, appearing alongside many a Hindu deity. Marsh Muggers are found in rivers and wetlands across much of India and are easily seen at Ranthambore, Nagarhole and Kaziranga.
The shy Chinkara is commonly known as the Indian Gazelle and thrives in the deserts of Rajasthan where lucky visitors often see them grazing beside villages and roadsides and near some of our heritage hotels in the region. Suited to its dry habitat it gets can go without water for long periods, finding fluids in plants and dew.
Insider Journeys can arrange tailor-made touring to some of India’s finest National Parks. Some of our India small group tours also include wildlife spotting at India’s stunning national parks. Contact us for trips to Ranthambore, Nagarhole, Corbett, Bandhavgar and Kanha national parks, and for specialised wildlife itineraries to any of India’s wild areas
Special thanks to Eric Finley for the amazing Wild India images.