‘Vanity project’: Introducing African cheetahs into India is a nasty concept, specialists say

India welcomed eight African cheetahs from Namibia to Madhya Pradesh’s Kuno National Park, greater than 70 years after the final recognized Asiatic cheetahs went extinct from the nation.

The undertaking was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his birthday, September 17, in what’s being described as a first-of-its-kind conservation undertaking for cheetahs, in addition to for the grasslands that make up their pure habitat.

But specialists say that India doesn’t have the habitat or prey species for wild, free-roaming African cheetahs, the undertaking won’t fulfil its intention of grassland conservation They say as a substitute that conserving different threatened species, akin to caracals and the Great Indian Bustard, needs to be the precedence.

The identify “cheetah” originates from Sanskrit and means “the spotted one”. The species is depicted in historic Neolithic cave work in Central India. The subspecies present in Iran at current is similar one which disappeared from India within the Forties, and had been formally declared extinct in 1952.

The final cheetahs within the wild in India had been recorded in 1948, when three cheetahs had been shot within the Sal forests in Chhattisgarh’s Koriya District. There had been a number of sporadic studies of sightings from the Central and Deccan areas until the mid-Nineteen Seventies.

Vulnerable species

The cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) is listed as “susceptible’’ within the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species of 2021. There are solely 6,517 mature people left on the planet. The cheetah is native to international locations together with Botswana, Chad, Ethiopia, Iran, Kenya, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. In Asia, cheetahs are actually confined to Iran, and comprise the subspecies A. j. venaticus, generally often known as Asiatic cheetah. A recent review confirmed that there are lower than 50 mature cheetahs in Iran now.

Considering how few Asiatic cheetahs now survive in Iran, it couldn’t be thought of for translocation to India. Therefore, the Indian authorities decided to undertake the transcontinental translocation of the African cheetah to India as a substitute.

Discussions to deliver the cheetah again to India had been initiated in 2009 by the Wildlife Trust of India. Experts from the world over and authorities officers determined to conduct website surveys to discover the potential for reintroduction.

The former cheetah vary states of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh had been prioritised. Amongst the ten surveyed websites of the Central Indian states, Kuno Palpur National Park in Madhya Pradesh was rated the best due to its appropriate habitat and sufficient prey base.

Kuno Palpur National Park is unfold over 748 sq km, kinds a part of the Sheopur-Shivpuri deciduous open forest panorama and is estimated to have the capability to maintain 21 cheetahs. Kuno might be the one wildlife website within the nation the place there was an entire relocation of villages from contained in the park. Kuno additionally affords the prospect of housing the 4 huge cats of India – tiger, lion, leopard and cheetah – and permitting them to coexist as prior to now, a government release notes.

The Supreme Court put an end to those talks in 2013. In an ongoing matter associated to the relocation of Asiatic lions from Gujarat to Kuno, the court docket got here down closely on the plan of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change to introduce the African cheetah from Namibia into India. It famous that Kuno shouldn’t be a historic habitat for African cheetahs, and {that a} detailed scientific research was not completed earlier than introducing this international species to India.

“At this stage, in our view, the decision taken by MoEF for introduction of African cheetahs first to Kuno and then the Asiatic lion is arbitrary and illegal and clear violation of the statutory requirements provided under the Wildlife Protection Act. The order of MoEF to introduce African cheetahs into Kuno cannot stand in the eye of Law and the same is quashed,” the Supreme Court acknowledged in its order in 2013. The Asiatic Lion is an endangered species and exists as a single remoted inhabitants in Gujarat.

Committee appointed

In January 2020, in a matter the place the National Tiger Conservation Authority approached the Supreme Court once more for the reintroduction of cheetahs in India, it was submitted that the African cheetahs can be launched on an experimental foundation in a rigorously chosen habitat. The Supreme Court lastly allowed this the identical yr, whereas appointing an knowledgeable committee to determine on the viability of introducing the African cheetah on a bigger scale. The committee included M. Ranjit Sinh, former director of wildlife preservation, Dhananjai Mohan, chief conservator of forests (Uttarakhand), and Director General (Wildlife).

The Indian authorities launched a cheetah action plan in 2021. Cheetahs had been supposed to be launched in India by August 15, 2022, which marked 75 years of Independence, however delays pushed the launch by one other month. The cheetahs have lastly been flown in from Namibia on Saturday morning after the Madhya Pradesh authorities spent hectic weeks preparing for his or her arrival.

This transcontinental translocation is a significant step for Namibia as effectively, as it is going to be the primary time the wild Southern African cheetah is translocated anyplace on the planet. “The cheetahs on this flight are not just the founders of a new population but explorers and goodwill ambassadors for an entire species,” acknowledged a press release by the Cheetah Conservation Fund that’s overseeing this undertaking. Vets had full entry to the cats within the continuous flight and now the Indian authorities will undertake a “soft release” of the felines in a 6 sq km enclosure after they’re radio-collared for monitoring.

Based on carrying capability estimates, the potential cheetah habitat protecting over 3,200 sq km (up from the present 740 sq km) within the Kuno panorama, with restorative measures and scientific administration, might present a prey base for as much as 36 cheetahs.

The undertaking has a finances of Rs 39 crore for a interval of 5 years. India aims to allow the cheetah to carry out its purposeful function as a prime predator, and to offer area for the pure growth of the cheetah inside its historic vary, thereby contributing to its world conservation efforts. Another main goal of this undertaking is to make use of the cheetah as a “charismatic flagship and umbrella species” to garner sources for restoring open forest and savanna methods that may profit biodiversity.

The Central authorities has undertaken an awareness campaign in faculties for cheetah conservation from September 9, involving greater than 17,000 college students throughout 12 states. Public consciousness campaigns have been formalised for the native communities, who will probably be termed as Cheetah Mitras, with a neighborhood mascot named “Chintu Cheetah”.

In saving cheetahs, one must save not solely its prey-base comprising sure threatened species, but in addition different endangered species of the grasslands and open forest ecosystems, a few of that are on the point of extinction, the federal government’s motion plan had famous. “Amongst these are the caracal, the Indian wolf and three endangered species of the bustard family- the Houbara, the lesser florican and the most endangered of all, the great Indian bustard (GIB).”

The authorities’s standards for the undertaking’s success for the quick time period contains 50% survival of the launched cheetah for the primary yr; cheetahs establishing residence ranges in KNP; efficiently reproducing within the wild; survival of wild-born cheetah cubs to greater than a yr, and F1 era, that’s, the primary offsprings breeds efficiently.

The undertaking will probably be thought of a failure if the launched cheetahs don’t survive, or fail to breed in 5 years amongst different issues. “In such a case, the program needs to be reviewed for alternative strategies or discontinuation,” the motion plan has advisable.

Experts voice issues

Senior conservationist and creator of round 40 books on wildlife Valmik Thapar is uncertain whether or not the cheetahs will survive within the wild in India.

“We do not have the habitat or prey species for wild, free-roaming cheetahs,” Thapar informed IndiaSpend. “The authorities have no experience or understanding of cheetahs in the wild. African cheetahs, if released into Kuno, will survive only in the short term and that too if frequently baited. India was never the natural home of African cheetahs. They were imported, domesticated and trained to hunt. They were pets for royalty. Historically, for 300 years we have had no healthy population of cheetahs besides runaways from people’s homes. I expect nothing from this project and believe we should look after our own indigenous species and not focus money or manpower on exotic aliens.”

Wildlife biologist and conservation scientist Ravi Chellam, who has been advocating for the translocation of Asiatic Lions in Kuno, believes that the cheetah introduction undertaking is a bid to stall the Asiatic Lions from being moved out of Gujarat.

“This poorly planned cheetah introduction is taking place to stall lion translocation,” mentioned Chellam. “Where is conservation, science or logic in it? They have decided to keep the lions in Gujarat, despite the clear SC order.”

Explaining why he thinks the cheetah introduction is an arrogance undertaking, Chellam mentioned that if in 15 years India could have solely 21 cheetahs beneath the best-case situation, how will that set up cheetah as a prime predator and likewise save grasslands? The common space required for a single cheetah is 100 sq km, which suggests Kuno can help solely seven to eight cheetahs, added Chellam.

“The cheetahs will require intensive hands-on management over decades,” he mentioned. “The government has still not implemented the 2013 court order to translocate Asiatic lions, of which there are only around 700 in the world, from Gir, Gujarat, to KNP but they are quick to implement a 2020 order to bring in cheetahs from Africa, which number around 7,000 in the world. Which is more endangered? They claim not to have funds to bury power lines in the habitats of the Great Indian Bustard but they have the required money for this extremely expensive trans-continental movement of cats?”

Prerna Singh Bindra, wildlife conservationist and former member of the National Wildlife Board, additionally mentioned that she wouldn’t classify the cheetah translocation undertaking as a conservation undertaking.

“If we talk about conservation priorities, there is only one single isolated population of the Asiatic lion making it vulnerable to extinction for reasons like a disease,” she mentioned. “In 2018 there was a canine distemper breakout in the Gir population, underlying the urgency for a second home for the lions.”

She added: “We are grappling with many complex conservation problems: human-wildlife conflict, loss and fragmentation of habitat, poaching etc. Such projects, though sexy, are a distraction to our core objective of conserving wildlife and ecosystems. Another issue is the cheetah is one of the widest-ranging of big cats, and known to travel across areas in excess of 1,000 sq km in a year. Historically, India has lost about 90% to 95% of its grasslands, 31% in a decade between 2005-’15 – so where will the cheetah roam, if it were ever returned to the wild?”

Instead, Bindra believes that India must first save its grasslands and never think about them wastelands. Our grasslands have an incredible array of charismatic, and endangered species akin to Great Indian Bustard, lesser Florican and wolves, amongst them, she mentioned. India’s precedence needs to be to preserve them, she mentioned.

IndiaSpend has written to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change on the issues raised by specialists relating to the survival of the cheetahs, and has requested whether or not the translocation of Asiatic lions is being stalled. This story will probably be up to date if a response is acquired.

This article first appeared on IndiaSpend.

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