Cheetah makes a comeback in India

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The fastest land animal, the Cheetah, was finally reintroduced in India after 70 years of extinction in 1972. 08 cheetahs, 05 females and 03 males, aged 4-6 years, arrived from Namibia on 17 September 2022 under Project Cheetah

The cheetahs have been introduced in Kuno National Park, Madhya Pradesh, because of the suitable climate and availability of a good prey base, which includes chinkara, blackbuck and spotted dear. 

The translocation of African cheetahs from South Africa to India is the world’s first intercontinental large wild carnivore translocation project. Ministry of environment, forest and climate change, along with the National Tiger Conservation Authority and Wildlife Institute of India. 

Cheetah In India

Cheetah was abundant in India during British Raj, from the northwest to Tamil Nadu in South India. The rulers in the Indian subcontinent tamed them for assistance in royal hunting. Keeping them in captivity without breeding and hunting games led to the extinction of Asiatic cheetahs. 

Severe habitat loss further worsened the situation. In 1952, the Indian government declared it extinct, thus, making them India’s only animal to face extinction due to unnatural causes. 

Project Cheetah

The Andhra Pradesh government proposed the reintroduction of cheetahs in 1956, but it was unsuccessful. 

The big break occurred in 2009 when international scientists gathered in Gajner in September for the reintroduction plan for African cheetahs in India.

The government panel established in 2010, rated Kuno Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary as the best site for reintroduction. In 2012, the Ministry of Environment, forest and climate change signed a contract with Namibia.

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Challenges 

Experts are giving mixed reactions to the reintroduction of Cheetahs in Kuno national park. 

“As a conservationist, I am thrilled, and as the cheetah conservation Fund’s leader, I am exceptionally proud of the work of our reintroduction team”, said Laurie Marker, an advisor to the project Cheetah on behalf of the Namibian government.

Ravi Chellam, a wildlife biologist, described this as a vanity project and an expensive mistake carried out without extensive research in haste. 

Initially, the concerned committee proposed Kuno national park as a site for expanding the Asiatic lion population from its sole habitat, the Gir forest. However, the project has been lingering since 2006.

Image Credits: The Indian Express

On the viability of the cheetah population in India, Yadvendradev Jalala, the dean of the Wildlife Institute of India, remarked that the project contributes to the global conservation of Cheetahs. 

“The project will be sustainable if we follow the action plan to establish three to five populations in India, not just Kuno,” he added. 

Today, around 8000 cheetahs live in the wild, mainly in Africa, and a small population (approx. 50) of Asiatic Cheetah, remains in Iran. Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) comes under IUCN’s vulnerable list. Therefore, successful efforts to save cheetahs are the need of the hour.

-SHREYA PANDEY

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