A ready reckoner on mammals in India

Did you know that rhinos are one of the most dangerous animals to come across on foot as they can clock 55 km an hour when they chase?

PTI| Last Updated: Jun 26, 2014, 15:00 PM IST

New Delhi: Did you know that rhinos are one of the most dangerous animals to come across on foot as they can clock 55 km an hour when they chase?

This and several interesting facts find mention in a new book "India Mammals: A Field Guide" by noted naturalist Vivek Menon.
Covering the rich diversity of mammal species in India, from tigers, elephants, rhinos and whales to primates, rodents and bats, "Indian Mammals", published by Hachette India, is a comprehensive, field-ready and illustrated guide to the mammals of India.

Accompanied by full-colour photographs and distribution maps, and based on scientific research reviewed by experts, it records details of virtually every mammal known to exist in India. There are about 400 mammals in India.

The in-depth text describes key identification features, biometrics, behaviour, social strategies, habitat and distribution.
The Malabar civet is one of the rarest mammals in India. With virtually no recorded sightings or any sort of evidences emerging in the past 20 years, it may be extinct or hanging on in very small numbers in the country.

The pygmy hog exists in small populations of a few hundred individuals in Assam while the Namphada flying squirrel is isolated in and around Namphada National Park in Arunachal Pradesh.

Other smaller species include the Andaman white-toothed shrew, Nicobar white-tailed shrew, the Kondana rat and the Elvira rat.

The author says that there is an important behavioural difference between the black rhinos of Kenya and the famed one-horn species of India.

"The African rhinos butt with their horn and ours bite with their powerful incisors," he says.
According to him, rhinos are one of the most dangerous animals in India to come across on foot.

"Beware, especially if a mother that you have been careful to avoid is separated from its calf, which you have not seen in the tall elephant grass of rhino habitat. Rhinos can clock 55 km an hour if they chase you," he warns.

Menon, founder and executive director of Wildlife Trust of India and an advisor to the International Fund for Animal Welfare and its regional director (South Asia), says that mammals change coat colour and quality depending on climatic conditions, and this is striking in subspecies that live in colder climates.

"In winter, the coat of many mammals becomes thicker, while in summer it becomes sparser. In some cases, this also results in a change of colour; for example, the Himalayan Stoat or Ermine goes from chestnut brown in summer to pure white in winter. The look of an animal changes with age and geography as also the seasons," he writes.

"Many males turn more colourful and grow spectacular appendages during breeding season, none more than the males of the deer family. In the non-breeding season, stags may be antler-less or may have small velvet knobs that grow into antlers, but in the rutting season, they sport the most impressive headgear among mammals," the book says.

Diet, according to the author, is a major factor that influences physiology, and mammals have developed specialised aids to gather food and to feed.

The powerful forelimbs of a tiger help it hunt, primates uses their opposable thumbs to forage, the large molars of herbivores help them chew, while the complex stomach of leaf-eating species helps them in digestion.