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Land and Resources, Plant and Animal Life

Asiatic cheetah, peninsular plateau, bandicoot rat, ibexes, Asiatic lion

India is home to abundant plant and animal life and has a wide range of climates that accommodate a diversity of species throughout the country. Broadly classified, there are seven major regions for plant and animal life in India: the arid Indus Plain, the Gangetic Plain, the Himalayas, Assam Valley, the Malabar Coast, the peninsular plateau, and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

India has an estimated 45,000 species of plants, 33 percent of which are native. There are 15,000 flowering plant species, 6 percent of the world’s total. About 3,000 to 4,000 of the total number of plant species are believed to be in danger of extinction.

In the arid areas that adjoin Pakistan, the eastern part of the Indus Plain, most plant life is sparse and herblike. Various thorny species, including capers (spiny shrubs with pale flowers) and jujubes (fruit-producing trees with veined leaves and yellowish flowers), are common. Bamboo grows in some areas, and among the few varieties of trees is the palm. The Gangetic Plain, which has more moisture, supports many types of plant life. Vegetation is especially luxuriant in the southeastern part of the plains region, where the mangrove and the sal, a hardwood timber tree, flourish.

In the Himalayas many varieties of arctic flora are found on the higher slopes. The lower levels of the mountain range support many types of subtropical plant life, notably the orchid. Dense forests remain in the few areas where agriculture and commercial forestry have had little effect. Coniferous trees, including cedar and pine, predominate in the northwestern Himalayan region. On the Himalayas’ eastern slopes, tropical and subtropical types of vegetation abound. Here rhododendrons grow to tree height. Among the predominant trees are oak and magnolia.

The Assam Valley features evergreen forests, bamboo, and areas of tall grasses. The Malabar Coast, which receives a large amount of rainfall, is thickly wooded. Evergreens, bamboo, and several varieties of valuable timber trees, including teak, predominate in this region. Extensive tracts of impenetrable jungle are found in the swampy lowlands and along the lower elevations of the Western Ghats. The vegetation of the peninsular plateau is less luxuriant, but thickets of bamboo, palm, and deciduous trees grow throughout the Deccan Plateau. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands have tropical forests, both evergreen and semievergreen.

India is inhabited by a wide variety of animal life, including almost 5,000 species of larger animals. Several species of the cat family—including the tiger, panther, Asiatic lion, Asiatic cheetah, snow leopard, jungle cat, and clouded leopard—live in some areas of India. Most of these species are under threat of extinction. Elephants roam the lower slopes of the central and eastern Himalayan foothills and the remote forests of the southern Deccan Plateau. Other large quadrupeds (four-footed animals) native to India include rhinoceroses (under threat of extinction), black bear, wolf, jackal, dhole (wild Asian dog), wild buffalo, wild hog, antelope, and deer. Several species of monkeys live throughout the country.

Various species of wild goats and sheep, including ibexes and serows, are found in the Himalayas and other mountainous areas. The pygmy hog, bandicoot rat, and tree mouse are typical types of smaller native quadrupeds; bats are also abundant. Venomous reptiles, including the cobra, krait, and saltwater snake, are especially numerous in India, and pythons and crocodiles are also found. Tropical birds of India include the parrot, peacock, kingfisher, and heron. The rivers and coastal waters of India teem with fish, including many edible varieties.

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