Thronged by tourists, but plagued by water shortages, Rajasthan might seem an unlikely standard bearer for biodiversity, but naturalists are finding more and more rare species clinging on in the state’s national parks and nature reserves.
In April, a rare caracal – an endangered big cat with graceful, elongated ears ending in furry tufts – was caught on film by a camera trap in Bharatpur’s Keoladeo National Park, one of Rajasthan’s most popular reserves. And this week, a rare brown sloth bear, a species normally seen only in hills of the sub-Himalaya, was spotted by park officials in the Kailadevi forest reserve adjoining Ranthambhore National Park.
More rare and elusive animals have been picked up in Sariska Tiger Reserve & National Park, northeast of Jaipur, including rare chousingha (four-horned antelopes), and striped hyenas, an animal usually associated with Africa, but still found in isolated pockets in the jungles of India. And the endangered fishing cat, more commonly seen in the marshlands of West Bengal, has recently been found living and breeding in the jungles of Keoladeo National Park.
However, many key species in Rajasthan remain under threat, with 39 species listed as endangered or critically endangered. Despite being the focus of a huge conservation effort, the population of Bengal tigers in Rajasthan may have fallen as low as 50, and fewer than 90 great Indian bustards are thought to survive in the state, representing 95% of the world population. In May 2017, the Rajasthan government announced the creation of two new breeding centres at Kota and Jaisalmer to help save the bustard from imminent extinction.