Nearly 70 years after the cheetah was declared locally extinct, India will receive its first batch of the large cats from southern Africa by the end of this year. Four possible sites have been selected in a project which has taken more than ten years to come about.
On the United Nations’ World Wildlife Day (3 March), Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change Prakash Javadekar announced the government’s goal of bringing cheetahs back to India.
In 1947, Maharaja Ramanuj Pratap Singh Deo of Koriya is believed to have caused the Asiatic Cheetah’s extinction in India after he shot the last three of them while hunting.
Now, decades later, India is going to carry out the world’s first inter-continental relocation of a large carnivore.
Two expert teams from Namibia and South Africa – the two countries with the highest cheetah populations in the world – will arrive to train Indian forest officers and wildlife experts on handling, breeding, rehabilitation, medical treatment and conservation of the animal.
“India now has the economic ability to consider restoring its lost natural heritage for ethical as well as ecological reasons,” an official from the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) told RFI.
Years in the making
Although the plan of bringing cheetahs to India was in the works for more than a decade, it was given the Supreme Court’s nod in January 2020. The court-appointed committee has selected four possible sites – three in the central state of Madhya Pradesh and one in northern Rajasthan – for the introduction of the cheetahs.
After due diligence, the expert committee has identified Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh as being ready for the relocation. The site has been monitored since 2006 as it had also been identified for relocating the Asiatic Lion. Both animals share the same habitat which is semi-arid grasslands that stretch across Gujarat-Rajasthan-Madhya Pradesh.
“We are planning to change the physical features of the forest, as suggested by the expert committee,” said J.S Chauhan, in charge of forest conservation.
Steady population decline
According to WII officials a lot of work still needs to done because the site requires sizable investments to relocate villages, control grazing of goats and cattle, and augment prey for the cheetah through translocation of blackbuck, chital, chinkara and wild boars.
The project of reintroducing cheetahs in India would include the forest department to reserve 700 sq km area for the imported cheetahs to dwell in the sanctuary. This would also mean evacuating 20 villages located in the 700 sq km area for the project and compensate over 2,000 families.
Cheetahs are a species of cat best known for being the fastest land animal, with the ability to sprint at high speeds of up to 120 kilometers per hour (75 miles per hour).
Today, cheetahs are found in the wild in several locations in Africa, and a tiny population of another subspecies, the Asiatic cheetah, is found in Iran.
Scientists estimate that fewer than 8,000 African cheetahs are living in the wild and that there may be fewer than 50 Asian cheetahs left in the world.