World’s Most Endangered Species
World’s Most Endangered Species:
Few things in life can be more thrilling than locking eyes with a tigress or swimming with rare turtles. Wildlife expert Bittu Sahgal tells you where to go for a glimpse of some of the world’s imperiled creatures
1. Grey Whale
Best seen at: Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
It was not yet winter, but the cold and drizzle made me shiver as I watched a pod of dolphins swim across the bow of our boat. That was when the captain spotted the vapour spout that I had travelled across the world to see. It was a grey whale, only hundred of which survive today. Arctic oil exploration is the biggest threat to these giant but gentle creatures. The landscape in the Kenai Fjords National Park is otherworldly: a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Anchorage in Alaska and we were in the heart of fabled wildernesses where mooses, bears, marmots and wolves roamed free. Eagles soared overhead and Steller sea lions basked on rocky outcrops.
2. Asiatic Lion
Only seen at: Gir, Gujarat
Sitting just ten metres from a lioness and her cubs in the company of Suleiman, one of Gir’s finest foresters, is an experience that will go down as one of the best in my life. Gir needs no introduction to the true wildlife enthusiast. It is the only forest in the world where you will find wild Asiatic lions. Only a few lucky ones can claim to have seen one on their first visit to Gir. This national park also has some amazing birdlife–crested serpent eagles, white-eyed buzzard and sparrow hawks. Now that’s something to look forward to even if the big cats elude you.
3. Green Sea Turtle
Best seen at: Khorfakkan, Sharjah
It was the first time I was scuba diving and thanks to my trainer, the claustrophobia vanished within minutes. What also helped was the apparition I saw before me–a green sea turtle that seemed to glide as though propelled by magic. One among five of the world’s endangered marine turtles, it is a wonder how it still manages to live in the midst of some of the world’s largest oil facilities. Green turtles, which weigh up to 200 kg, can be found nesting on sandy beaches in the Arabian Sea and, across the globe, from Mexico to Japan, and also New Zealand.
4. Royal Bengal Tiger
Best seen at: Ranthambhore (Rajasthan), Kanha and Bandhavgarh (Madhya Pradesh), Corbett (Uttarakhand) and Tadoba (Maharashtra)
I saw my first tiger in Kanha. She walked ahead of our elephant and led us to her family of two six-month-old cubs. Luckily for me, there have been encores as far as tiger sighting is concerned. It’s a different feeling when a tiger looks you in the eye… Unfortunately, this could well become a thing of the past given that the tiger, our national animal, is caught in the crossfire between habitat destruction and poaching. A recent nationwide ad campaign claimed that there were less than 1411 tigers left in the wild and that’s all the reason you need to pack your bags and head for some tiger-spotting.
5. Black Rhinoceros
Best seen at: Masai Mara, Kenya
We were crossing the dramatic Mara River when a wireless message communicated that we were close to spotting one of the reserve’s very few black or hook-lipped rhinoceros. Driving on very slowly, we were blessed by a sighting in a hilly outcrop that stood out in the otherwise flat, sea of grass that is the Mara. The illegal wildlife trade saw the black rhino population drop from over 70,000 in the 1960s to around 5,000 in the 1980s, and further down to about 2,500 today.
6. Brown Bear
Best seen at: Anchorage, Alaska
There they were, 200 metres below us, a mother brown bear and her playful cub, in the wildest place I had seen on the planet. My wife Madhu and I were being piloted by a friend, Michael McBride, in his tiny 1940s Piper plane (an unforgettable experience). As we landed on the azure waters around a remote forested island, we saw mooses and flocks of snow geese around us. The setting was almost surreal and I will never forget the sight of the bear family spending what urbanites may call ‘quality time’ together. The brown bear, you must remember, is one of the deadliest creatures of the wild.
7. Asiatic Wild Ass
Best seen at: Little and Great Rann of Kutch, Gujarat
I sat quietly in the jeep as a herd of 30 wild asses moved closer to us. We were hidden from them behind an outcrop of vegetation in one of the many bets (high ground) in the otherwise flat landscape of the Rann. Experts say less than 1,000 of the species survive today. The habitat of the wild ass is also one of the best birding destinations in the world, so a visit post-monsoon or early winter is a good idea.
8. One-horned Rhinoceros
Best seen at: Kaziranga, Assam
The rhino came charging at us without warning. We were in Kaziranga and had stopped at Debeshwar Tapori, in the park’s Eastern Range, to watch a pair of Bengal Florican, another endangered species, do the famous courtship dance. That’s when the possessive mother rhino made it clear that we were not welcome. We did run for our lives but, on hindsight, the chase did make all the difference to just another jeep safari. Strict protection has helped population make an impressive recovery in Kaziranga.
Best seen at: Dachigam National Park, J and K
The bugling mating call of the male hangul, also known as the Kashmir stag, reverberated across the Dagwan River Valley. There cannot be a more enticing way of telling the small group of hinds nearby that he is single and available, I thought as I trained my lens on the stag. Only 200 of these stags remain in the Dachigam National Park, which suffered in the hands of insurgents in the recent years. The park is also home to the black Himalayan bear, the leopard, wild boars and a stunning variety of birds.
10. Spotted Hyena
Best seen at: Across Sub-Saharan Africa (Tanzania, Botswana, South Africa and Kenya
Waiting with bated breath, we scanned the Masai Mara horizon for lions when, suddenly, we heard a scuffling sound less than ten metres from the vehicle. In no time, a female spotted hyena emerged from her den, two young cubs in tow. Soon, they were joined by the male and we spent the next hour watching them at play. Master scavengers, the spotted hyena is vital to the ecology of the African plains and often competes with lions from whom it steals food. Sadly, these creatures are poisoned by villagers who want to protect their livestock.