India is an incredibly interesting place. Home to one of the world’s oldest civilizations, it may conjure images of ancient temples, monkeys, and energetic, crowded cities. India is also the land of The Jungle Book, with many jungles full of tigers, elephants, snakes, and birds.
The second most populated country in the world, India is home to over 1.3 billion people! A man in India, Vijay Kumar, has 37 teeth and holds the record for the human with the most teeth. The world’s shortest person, Jyoti Kisange Amge who is just over two feet tall, also lives there. Chess, the game of snakes and ladders, yoga, the number zero, calculus, trigonometry, and algebra all originated in India.
Almost 25% of India is forested, with much of that area forming many different large jungles. Unlike many rainforests of the world which are shrinking, India’s are actually growing. Although economic growth and reduced rights of forest dwellers and tribal communities that help manage the jungles are a concern, the goal is to have 33 percent of India’s geographical area under forest cover. To meet this goal, the conservation of forested areas and endangered species is a priority in many of India’s states. More than 500 wildlife sanctuaries and 100 national parks provide homes to incredible creatures. Citizens are encouraged to contribute to nature by growing gardens and planting trees on their property.
The Bengal Tiger is an endangered species, with only around 3,000 living in the entire world. One of the largest wild cats that exist today, they can reach 10 feet long from their nose to the tip of their three-foot-long tail and the largest males can be nearly 600 pounds. Such a huge animal needs the teeth to match, so their canine teeth are over three inches long, the longest of any big cat species. Any large animal is prey for a Bengal tiger, even other predators like leopards, bears, crocodiles, and venomous snakes. They will eat up to 40 pounds of food at a time, then go days without eating while all that food digests.
Indian wolves are smaller than most other wolves, with a less dense, more reddish coat. Those differences mean that many people mistake them for a fox or dog. They are less territorial than other wolf species and rarely howl. Unlike Mowgli’s wolf family in The Jungle Book, they usually avoid the jungles and stick to the more open areas like grasslands. Litters of 3 to 5 pups are born in underground dens and the father looks after the pups with the mother. An Indian wolf mother has several dens so she can move her pups around often.
India Rock Python
Rock pythons are found all throughout India and spend a lot of time in water since they are excellent swimmers. They are lethargic, move slowly, and timid. Mowgli’s friend Kaa is a rock python who could hypnotize animals. Real rock pythons do not have a hypnotic hunger dance, but they do coil around prey to subdue them. Since their jaw bones are not connected, they can swallow animals far larger than their head. Some have been photographed swallowing an adult deer! They fast for weeks after a large meal and one rock python was even observed fasting for two years. Although rock pythons are not venomous, they do have many small sharp teeth that may cause an injury which is easily infected.
Mowgli’s best friend Baloo is believed to be a sloth bear. Their coats are long and shaggy, and they sometimes move clumsily, but they are powerful creatures that climb well and can run faster than a human. Sloth bears are the only bear species that give piggyback rides to their babies.
Like the average 7-year-old child, sloth bears don’t have their two top, front incisors, so they can suck up large numbers of ants and other insects more easily. Their premolars and molars are smaller than other bears species since they do not chew as much. However, they make up for this with canine teeth that are larger than average. Although gentle with their young, sloth bears can be extremely aggressive, and the large canine teeth help intimidate other dangerous animals.
Black Panther/Indian Leopard
Mowgli’s mentor Bagheera is an Indian Leopard with a genetic trait that caused his fur to appear black. Indian leopards are nocturnal, great at swimming and climbing, and can jump 9 feet high or leap 20 feet horizontally. Stealth and surprise are their usual hunting tactics, and a leopard will leap out of a tree onto its prey. Although they can run 36 mph, they avoid long chases and usually stop pursuing their prey after 5 to 10 feet.
Like the usual golden leopard, black leopards still have spots called rosettes. Although the rosettes usually blend into the rest of their dark fur, they can be seen in certain light. Each leopard has a unique pattern of rosettes, and scientists use the patterns to identify the different individuals.
Indian cobras are the snake used by Indian snake charmers. They are deaf, so instead of swaying to the music, they actually follow the movement of the flute. Indian cobras are highly venomous and react aggressively to rapid movements. Since they often live near humans, they are responsible for thousands of bites and the majority of human deaths by snakebite in Asia. However, if someone gets medical treatment and antivenom promptly, they are likely to recover. Indian cobra venom does have a positive side, as it is used in research and to manufacture antivenom, painkillers, and anti-cancer medications.
Grey Langurs are the monkey species that kidnapped Mowgli. As in the story, grey langurs are noisy and aggressive. Although they have not actually kidnapped a human child, they do kidnap monkey babies from nearby groups. Langurs are considered sacred in the Hindu religion, but other religious groups use them as food and medicine.
While not as big as African Elephants, Indian Elephants are still enormous, standing 6 to 11 feet tall and weighing up to 11,000 pounds. They need to drink every day, so they stay near fresh water. To support their size, Indian Elephants can eat 330 pounds of plants a day, which sometimes takes 19 hours to consume. The tusks, which are oversized incisors, are useful in digging up roots and grow about 6 inches a year. Tusks have pulp, dentin, and enamel, just like normal-sized teeth. Only male Indian Elephants have tusks, but some females develop tushes, a short tusk with no pulp. Elephants usually use one tusk more than the other, just like we tend to use one hand more often than the other.
As you can see, India’s focus on conserving forested areas has paid off with an abundance of large animal species that flourish in many areas throughout the country. These animals each have important functions that keep their environment thriving. Like every animal which has a specific role in its environment, we each have a unique role to play in our lives. We look forward to seeing your one-of-a-kind self at your next dental or orthodontic visit!
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