The government on Wednesday released an action plan for reintroducing cheetahs in India.
The Asiatic cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus venaticus) went extinct in the country in the mid-1900s because of hunting. India was that rare landscape where once four felids (wild cats) roamed: Tiger, lion, cheetah and leopard. In 1947, Maharaja Ramanuj Pratap Singh Deo of Koriya is believed to have caused the 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. The idea was proposed in 2010 by the then environment minister, Jairam Ramesh.
The cheetah closest to the original Indian one is the sub-species that ranges across Iran. However, given their population is small and therefore vulnerable, India has decided to procure the spotted cats from robust populations in Africa. The environment ministry will initially issue an import permit for 20 individuals. The Cheetah Conservation Fund, Namibia, and And Beyond, South Africa, have shown an interest in collaborating on the project.
The 310-page plan issued by the current Environment Minister, Bhupinder Yadav, talks about introducing at least 50 cats over the next five years. The plan was released at the 19th meeting of the National Tiger Conservation Authority.
A group of 10 to 12 cheetahs that are ideal – young and genetically diverse, and behaviourally sound, not overly imprinted to humans and capable of hunting – will be selected as the founder stock during the first year.
The Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh has been selected as the first site for the population, though long-term plans include widening the range to other parks.
The plan expects a 5 per cent growth rate in the population and hopes that within 15 years, the released population should reach carrying capacity. To manage the genetic pool, the plan proposes substituting the male coalition by a different coalition after the first generation sired by the first male cohort has reached over 18 months. The plan details vaccinating all dogs in the vicinity to prevent spread of rabies, and also gives details in managing natural predators like jackals, hyenas and leopards while the cheetah population gets a chance to establish.
“This is proposed to be an ongoing activity after reintroduction, without an end of project situation in sight in the foreseeable future, However, the first phase of the project is devised, for the the sake of convenience alone, for a period of five years,” says the plan.
The Centre proposes to bear the cost of ₹91.65 crore during Phase 1. The entire financing will be borne by the Centre. The states will provide staff salaries and generally manage the area.