Spanning an area of about 3,42,000 sq km, located in north-west India, Rajasthan is among the largest of the country’s states and is remarkably rich in wildlife, its vast size and latitudinal variations (sea level to over 1,700 m) have provided it with varied vegetation- from the semi-evergreen forests of Mt Abu to the almost barren or dry scrub grasslands of the desert and from the dry deciduous thorn forests of the Aravalli hills to the wet marshes of Bharatpur.

The climate of the state may be described as tropical monsoon, but varies considerably from area to area, its extremes of temperature ranging from frost cold winters to scorching hot, dry summers. The average annual rainfall varies from 100-1,500 mm.

Geographically, Rajasthan can be divided into four regions, each distinctive—the desert in the north and west, the Aravalli hills in the middle, the alluvial Indo-Gangetic plains in the east, and the Vindhyan hills and the Deccan trap in the south and south-eastern parts of the state-with ecosystems that support a variety of wildlife. Till a hundred years ago the Asiatic lion, now confined to the Gir forests of Gujarat, and the cheetah, now extinct in India, were found in many parts of the state. Sightings of herds of over a thousand antelopes was not unusual. The range and number of these antelopes has declined with the increase in human population and the ploughing of marginal lands-yet, large herds can still be spotted in the state’s non-forest areas. Tigers and their prey animals, deer and wild bqar, are essentially forest animals and are, therefore, confined to the Aravalli and Vindhyan hills. Two protected regions have been included under Project Tiger. Although the tiger is an elusive animal, yet the chances of seeing one in the dry deciduous forests of Rajasthan is better than in most other tiger reserves.

The leopard, also called panther in India, an adaptable animal, is usually found in the forest areas as well as in the open, degraded forest areas with rocky outcrops adjoining towns and villages. The cunning predator finds it easy to prey on unguarded village dogs, goats, donkeys, calves and poultry.

Besides the two big cats, five lesser cats-caracal, jungle cat, fishing cat, desert cat and rusty spotted cat-inhabit the state. The caracal, found in both the forest and the desert, is a graceful feline with a sandy coloration and black tufted ears. Once trained for hunting doves, pigeons, partridges and other birds by the cheetah-trainers of Jaipur, this agile hunter has now become rate, occasionally sighted in Ranthambhore and Sariska. There have been recent reports of sightings of the rusty spotted cat for the first time in Sariska. It is possible that it is also present in other, similar areas though no such reports are available. The jungle cat is common in most protected areas as well as in the wastelands. The distribution of the desert cat is confined to the arid parts of the state, whereas the best place to spot a fishing cat is the Keoladeo Ghana national park, Bharatpur.