India and Namibia have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to reintroduce the African cheetah in India.
About Cheetah –
- The cheetah, Acinonyx jubatus, is one of the oldest of the big cat species, with ancestors that can be traced back more than five million years to the Miocene era.
- It is listed as vulnerable in IUCN red listed species.
- The cheetah — which is the fastest land animal — was declared extinct in India in 1952.
- The Asiatic cheetah was classified as a “critically endangered” species by the IUCN Red List, and is believed to survive only in Iran.
- In 1947, there were confirmed records of the cheetah’s presence in India, but the three surviving males were gunned down by Maharaja Ramanuj Pratap Singh Deo of Surguja state in what is now Guru Ghasidas National Park in Chhattisgarh.
Cheetah Reintroduction programme –
- The Wildlife Institute of India at Dehradun had prepared a ₹260-crore cheetah re-introduction project six years ago.
- Nauradehi was found to be the most suitable area for the cheetahs as its forests are not very dense to restrict the fast movement of the spotted cat. Besides, the prey base for cheetahs is also in abundance at the sanctuary.
- According to the earlier action plan, around 20 cheetahs were to be translocated to Nauradehi from Namibia in Africa.
What is the government’s plan to bring cheetahs to India?
- The Indian government has been attempting to reintroduce cheetahs in India since the 1960s and the 1970s, but over the past decade these plans have gained more momentum.
- Back then, the government attempted to bring cheetahs from Iran because it was the only country to have a surviving population of the species, but Tehran had declined, in part because of the critically low population numbers of the species, all of which were in the wild.
- Then in September 2009, these plans gained traction when the then Environment Minister pushed the project as one involving the reintroduction of “the only large mammal to have gone extinct in India.”
- Around that time, there was indication that the cheetahs would be brought in from the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) in Namibia or other captive facilities based in South Africa.
Issues in this plan –
- While these developments were occurring, the government’s Asiatic Lion Reintroduction Project, an initiative involving the reintroduction of the last wild population of the Asiatic lion found in the Gir Forest National Park in Gujarat, was happening simultaneously.
- 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.
What has the Kuno sanctuary planned?
- The initial release of the cheetahs will involve what the park calls a “soft release”, where the animals will be monitored within a 500-hectare, electrically-fenced area, that is regularly monitored by park staff.
- Just before the cheetahs arrive, leopards in Kuno will be moved out of the territory demarcated for the cheetahs to prevent conflict between species. Among other concerns, conservationists critical of these reintroduction plans have also questioned whether the park has the capacity to adequately provide prey for the cheetahs.