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INDIA… IN THE VERY BEGINNING - How the Indian Subcontinent was Formed


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The Law of Fang and Claw

Animal life already existed on the Indian sub-continent. It would be millions of years before the first ape-men would appear, but before that a vast number of other mammals and other creatures lived on the rolling grasslands, which were watered by the mighty, life-giving rivers. Mammals had existed for a long time, as tiny rat-like creatures that scurried in the shade of the forests. When the dinosaurs died out, the mammals took over as the dominant species on the planet. They now had food in abundance and no competition from the dinosaurs. So they grew bigger and bigger -- and different in shape from each other.

 On the prehistoric Indo-Gangetic plains and Deccan plateau, there lived a wide variety of creatures. The land around modern-day Delhi were dotted with ancient lakes. Primitive elephants, giant turtles, deer and rhinos roamed along the shores of these lakes. When they died, some of them left records for us in clay and stone. Some left their fossilized bones. Others their foot-prints. From these, we have a pretty good idea about these creatures. More significantly, these creatures were the fore-runners of most of the wild animals that we see today in India.

Today India has one species of elephant (Elephas maximus). The only other living species of elephant is the African elephant. However, 7 million years ago, nearly 15 different species of elephant-like creatures, lived on the Indian sub-continent. Some were small, boar-sized creatures called Gomphotheres. They had tusks not only on their upper jaws, but on their lower jaws as well. Unlike the elephants of today they had no trunk. Bigger than the Gomphotheres, were the Mastodons. They stood 10 feet tall and had long, curving tusks and a good-sized trunk. Then two million years ago, the most spectacular elephant-ancestor appeared in the Shivalik mountains. He has been named Stegodon ganesa. Stegodon's tusks grew so close, that there was no place to hang his trunk between them. So his trunk had to hang off to one side.

But, the elephants were not the biggest creatures at that time. There lived in north India, a huge, muscular creature that stood 17 feet tall. This was Baluchiterium, the biggest mammal to have roamed the earth. It probably weighed as much as four or five modern elephants. But, despite his fearful appearance, Baluchiterium was a gentle beast, unless he was provoked. When angered, all he had to do was to charge at his foe with all his might. Over thousands of years, Baluchiterium's children grew a central horn on their head, and, in time, became the famous Great Indian rhinoceros.

Living side-by-side with these large creatures, was a crafty, sly creature, who spent most of its time running down smaller prey, like deer. With time, this mammal developed a sleek, muscular body and could run up to great speeds. This was the Smilodon, a cat with saber-like teeth, with which it could grip its prey. Smilodon's offspring diversified and became the tigers, lions and cheetahs of the Indian jungles.

Meanwhile, lurking in the waters of the Ganges, was a close relative of the extinct dinosaurs. The reptile, Parasuchus, was a fresh-water crocodile. He grew to lengths of 28 feet and was armed with a snout with 30 curved teeth. More terrible than Parasuchus, was his cousin Pristichampus. This 10 foot long crocodile, came out of the water and hunted mammals on the open plains. All crocodiles can rapidly in short bursts, but Pristichampus developed longer than average legs and strong claws for traction. He was a terror, as he could run down many of the smaller mammals that lived near the Ganges. Both, Parasuchus and Pristichampus, developed into India's modern-day crocodiles and Gangetic Gharials.


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