The translocation of eight Namibian cheetahs to the Kuno National Park has created its share of controversy. While it is being hailed as a great initiative to reintroduce an iconic big cat, it will require years of careful follow-through to ensure the cat thrives and this doesn’t turn out to be just a publicity exercise.


What are the concerns?

There are concerns about genetic diversity, and there’s need to take measures to protect them from poachers and other animals, and thought must also be given to managing the inevitable disturbances in the ecosystem, which result from the advent of a new apex predator. There are also possible issues about human-animal conflict, and possible resentment from relocated villagers.


Need for protection

  • Kuno is close to ideal in terms of habitat since it consists of open grasslands where cheetahs are comfortable. But these are all adults, and big cats are territorial.
  • Careful management will be required to ensure they settle down without conflict between cheetahs themselves. In addition to habitat, Kuno also needs to be stocked with prey species cheetahs are comfortable hunting. If the potential prey species changes, they may need to change their hunting patterns, which is not something animals do easily.
  • As and when they litter, they would need to be protected from leopards, and hyena and wild dogs which could kill cubs. Cheetahs are notably more vulnerable to this than other big cats. 


Question of genetic diversity

Eight cheetahs may or may not carry a sufficiently wide gene-pool to prevent inbreeding, depending on whether they are related. Assuming these specimens reproduce, more animals may need to be imported in future, and new habitats assigned, to ensure a viable population.


Other issues

  • Reintroducing a big predator causes inevitable changes in the ecosystem. Populations of prey species change, and that, in turn, leads to changes in the environment.
  • In North America, for instance, the reintroduction of wolves has led to a reduction in beaver populations, which in turn has meant fewer beaver dams, leading to differences in water flows, affecting fish populations.
  • Cheetahs preying on antelope could lead to changes in grazing patterns, with long-term impacts. Naturalists must be prepared for this. Conservationists everywhere have noted that reserves tend to be successful only when local populations are supportive.


Supporting the relocated villagers

  • There is usually initial hostility since creating a reserve involves relocating villagers. Some 24 settlements have been relocated so far in Kuno. The locals must be adequately compensated.
  • They also need to be reskilled for alternative employment as guides and guards, and livestock needs to be protected.



If all this happens, conflict is reduced and locals are more likely to be supportive. This model has worked in African reserves and in reserves like Tadoba, where local populations have been relocated and reskilled smoothly.

In sum, the reintroduction of cheetahs is a laudable initiative. But it will take years of careful management before project cheetah can be accounted successful. That will require dedicated follow-up to ensure that the Kuno ecosystem finds a new balance where these beauties can thrive.


SourceBusiness Standard


QUESTION – The Cheetah Reintroduction Project is marred with several challenges but careful management of all concerns can prove to be a game changer. Comment.