Daksha, a female cheetah from South Africa, died in Madhya Pradesh’s Kuno National Park on Tuesday (May 9), following a violent interaction with a male during a mating attempt, the Union environment ministry said.
The death is the third in the wildlife sanctuary in the span of a month and a half. On March 27, Sasha, one of the Namibian cheetahs died due to a kidney-related ailment while another named cheetah, Uday, from South Africa, died on April 13.
Also read: Five more cheetahs to be released into wild in MP’s Kuno National Park before monsoon
The sudden deaths have conservationists and wildlife experts questioning the carrying capacity of the Kuno National Park and the decision to keep the cheetahs in fenced enclosures.
The ministry said in a statement that Daksha was found fatally injured by the monitoring team at 10:45 am on Tuesday. Although veterinarians gave her treatment, she died at 12 noon.
The wounds found on Daksha seemed to have been caused by a violent interaction with the male during the courtship/mating attempt. In such a situation, the chances of intervention by the monitoring team are almost non-existent and practically impossible, it said.
The ministry said such violent behaviours by male coalition cheetahs towards the females during mating are common.
The cheetah project was reviewed by a team of experts, including from South Africa, on April 30.
Five more cheetahs to be introduced
The experts have decided to release five more cheetahs into the wild before the onset of the monsoon and keep the rest in their fenced acclimatization camps until the monsoon rains get over.
Authorities have also decided to open certain internal gates of the fenced enclosures to give more space to cheetahs and allow “interactions between specific males and females.”
A Madhya Pradesh forest department official told PTI that Daksha was released in enclosure number one, and two male cheetahs, Vayu and Agni, were released from boma 7 (enclosure) for mating.
“However, it appears that the male cheetahs turned violent during the process, which is a normal thing,” he said.
Also read: MP: Another African cheetah dies at Kuno National Park; second death in less than a month
Wildlife biologist and conservation scientist Ravi Chellam said all the three deaths have occurred in captivity.
“Of the four animals, which have been released so far, one has been captured twice and is now kept captive. If we are not ready to release them, why did we bring them?”
“People who have been closely involved in conceptualising this project, drafting the action plan and even implementing it are now saying Kuno is not good enough and there are space constraints. Didn’t we know this earlier? You should have made sure you had the ground prepared for at least 50 cheetahs before you import your first cheetah because one extra day in captivity is too long,” he said.
According to the cheetah reintroduction plan, Kuno holds the potential to sustain up to 21 cheetahs based on its existing prey base.
Also read: India’s cheetah reintroduction plan ignored spatial ecology: Scientists
With restoration, protection and management, the number can go up to 40 individuals.
On Monday, the ministry said the decision to release the cheetahs into their second home will be taken based on a review after the monsoon season. It said the exact carrying capacity of KNP cannot be determined until the cheetahs have properly established their home ranges.
(With inputs from agencies)