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Trans location of African Cheetahs: Will the experiment succeed?

After being declared extinct 70 years ago, the first batch of five-six Cheetahs will be translocated from South Africa to Indian land under the intercontinental plan. These cheetahs will be brought to Kuno National Park, Madhya Pradesh.

SNS | New Delhi |

When was the last time you heard about the cheetahs, maybe when your grandmother or grandfather might have narrated the story of Cheetahs? Being small kids we always used to gasp in awe after seeing leopards, panthers, tigers, lions, and other wild animals in pictures in their natural environment. But cheetahs? They are always absent from thought and discussion.

But not anymore because The Cheetahs are coming……………..

After being declared extinct 70 years ago, the first batch of five-six Cheetahs will be translocated from South Africa to Indian land under the intercontinental plan. These cheetahs will be brought to Kuno National Park, Madhya Pradesh.

India and Namibia signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Wednesday to reintroduce the African cheetah to India. The Centre announced that these big cats will be transported to Madhya Pradesh by August.

“The main goal of the cheetah reintroduction project is to establish viable cheetah metapopulation in India that allows the cheetah to perform its functional role as a top predator,” a statement from the Indian Environment Ministry said.

The arrival of the cheetahs is expected to coincide with India’s 75th Independence Day celebrations on August 15, 2022.

After signing the agreement in New Delhi with Namibia’s Deputy Prime Minister Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, India’s Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav tweeted: “Completing 75 glorious years of Independence with restoring the fastest terrestrial flagship species, the cheetah, in India, will rekindle the ecological dynamics of the landscape.”

In another tweet, he said, “Cheetah reintroduction in India has a larger goal of re-establishing ecological function in Indian grasslands that was lost due to extinction of Asiatic cheetah. This conforms with IUCN guidelines on conservation translocations.”

A statement from the Environment Ministry said the KNP can currently host up to 21 cheetahs, but after the restoration of a wider landscape, its capacity will be increased to about 36.

The fastest land animal in the world was declared extinct in the country in 1952. It is believed that more than 10,000 Asiatic cheetahs roamed the wilds of India during the 16th century. The cheetah population in India dwindled during the 19th century, largely because of bounty hunting by local Indian kings and ruling British officials. The last three Asiatic cheetahs were hunted down in 1948 by an Indian king in central India. In 1952, the cheetah was declared officially extinct in the country. Just a dozen or so Asiatic cheetahs are left in the wild right now — all in Iran.

Kuno Palpur National Park (KNP) was selected among 10 other places to reintroduce the big cats into the wild in India. KNP was identified as the best-suited destination. The national park is 748 sq km in area. Human settlements, villages, and cultivated land were relocated while building the national park.

The biggest reason for introducing the cheetahs back to India is to “rekindle the ecological dynamics of the landscape” in the words of the Union Minister of Environment.

Earlier Madhya Pradesh tried to bring the Asiatic lion found in the Gir Forest National Park in Gujarat 22 years back.  The project attempted to establish a new population of Asiatic lions at the Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh. But this proposed translocation was bitterly contested by the Gujarat state government, on several grounds, one of which was that the lions were icons of the state.

This matter also reached to Supreme Court in 2012. The court put this plan on hold and eventually MP had to give up on the ‘king of jungle’ dream. It then set its sight on the world’s fastest land animal, the cheetah and it seems to be coming true, in 2020, India’s Supreme Court announced that African cheetahs could be introduced in a “carefully chosen location” in India on an experimental basis.

Since then, India has been making an effort to ship in the African cheetahs. The government will spend Rs. 92 crores to import these cheetahs.

But their return has been both celebrated and criticized by the scientific community. Let’s take a look at both sides:

The pros and the cons of bringing African Cheetahs

Pros: Cheetah prefers to live in grasslands so they can become a very important factor in the biodiversity of India’s grassland ecosystem. They are a top predator and will help other species like the Indian bustard and the caracal, both of which are also endangered.

Cheetahs have the lowest rate of human conflicts. Also, Cheetah tourism will help attract money that could be used for conversation.

Cons: Due to climate change, wildlife species in India and the world are under dire straits, in this condition it is prudent to use funds to conserve threatened species rather than the re-introduction of species.

Several conservationists have opined that Cheetah re-introduction, is a case of misplaced priorities; instead, the government should focus on the ever-growing list of other endangered animals.

Mohan Roy Choudhary, a zoologist says, “as the MP government is trying to legalize illegal mining in Chambal because of a lack of control, this could become a major problem for the cheetahs. Around 100 Cheetahs need 10,000 sq km of range of an uninterrupted habitat to grow and survive. Whereas the Kuno has around 3,200 sq km only.”

“However, this can be solved if there is enough food but the sanctuary has a small number of chinkara which will work well in the start but the MP government will need to get large dear like sambar inside Kuno for further survival,” he said.

Choudhary further added, “Also, the biggest challenge is stray dogs. Forest across India suffer from a large population of stray dogs who have hunted even leopards and tigers. They carry CDB and  FIP and Parvovirus which are fatal to cheetahs.”

The government has taken a very good initiative but it has a lot of work to ensure that the cheetah doesn’t go extinct again in India.