Cheetah re-introduction project achieves partial success at Kuno-Palpur

The Centre had outlined criteria for the success of the first phase of the project, which includes achieving at least 50 per cent survival of the introduced cheetahs for the first year and the establishment of a home range for Cheetahs in Kuno.
Last Updated : 22 November 2023, 12:56 IST
Last Updated : 22 November 2023, 12:56 IST

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After over a year since the re-introduction of Cheetahs (November 17, 2022) in Kuno-Palpur, the authorities claim to have achieved short-term success on four counts, at least.

The Centre had outlined criteria for the success of the first phase of the project, which includes achieving at least 50 per cent survival of the introduced cheetahs for the first year and the establishment of a home range for Cheetahs in Kuno so they can successfully reproduce in the wild. Besides revenue generation for local communities.

A senior forest official on the condition of anonymity disclosed that the challenge however remains for their release in the wild.

Presently all 14 (adult) plus one cub are in enclosures, and will only be released after approval by the steering committee.

The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and WII (Wildlife Institute of India) constituted an 11-member steering committee to oversee the re-introduction project in India. Rajesh Gopal, the secretary general of the Global Tiger Forum, is the committee's chairman, and PCCF (wildlife) Aseem Shrivastava is also a member. The official said the committee was supposed to take a call on its (Cheetahs) release anytime soon after the monsoon.

But no action has been taken so far, he added. Meanwhile, despite repeated attempts to contact PCCF Aseem Shrivastava on the phone, there was no response.

However, the important thing to note here is the survival ratio which is just 50 per cent and not enough for chest beating. Experts from Namibia, South Africa, and India reportedly underlined the facts concerning the Cheetah movement in the wild in the Indian sub-continent.

Wherever the translocation out of Africa has taken place, the large size enclosures measuring over 80,100, 200, and 300 sq km were reclaimed for settlement. Earlier the senior forest official from MP had written to NTCA expressing concern over Cheetahs' death and sought a substitute plan.

A nearby Mukundra Tiger Reserve in the Jhalawad district of Rajasthan which has a large fenced area covering 80 to 82 sq km from a total of 759.99 sq km, was suggested as an alternative home/choice for settlement. The fencing was done at an estimated cost of Rs 30 to 35 crore in Mukundra for Tiger enclosure. As it was empty, Cheetahs can be relocated from Kuno-Palpur to Mukundra to stay safely and longevity. But no action was taken on it by the NTCA/WII to date either.

DFO (Sheopur) Thirukural R said the health condition of all surviving Cheeta (14 adults and one cub) was fine. They are still inside the enclosure and the decision to release them in the wild will be taken by the steering committee. The committee schedule is still undecided, he added.

The maiden home for Cheetahs in India, Kuno-Palpur in Sheopur district, some 420 km from Bhopal, promises to excite wildlife enthusiasts with some wonderful landscaping, flora-fauna, and aquatic wildlife in Chambal river. The evolving of a full-fledged jungle safari that encompasses 1250 sq km (core and buffer zone) and grassland etc is a complete package. Further, there is a proposal to expand the area by adding 600 sq km to Cheetah project. The proposal is pending clearance with the state government, told Thirukural R.

Madhya Pradesh is known for its forest, classical music, monuments, fortress, rivers, and rich and diverse culture. The decision by the union government to trans-locate Cheetas, which were declared extinct from India in 1952, was taken to make their maiden home in Kuno-Palpur in MP.

Twenty Cheetas that were re-introduced amidst much fanfare, only 14 plus one cub (born later) have survived.

Unfortunately, six have died due to various reasons including a compromised condition of kidney infection in one female Cheetah brought to India from Namibia. Out of 20, eight Cheetahs were brought from Namibia on September 17, 2022, and 12 from South Africa on 18th February 2023.

The Cheetahs are currently housed in temporary quarantine enclosures to monitor their health. They have been housed according to their social units: a pair of brothers are housed in one enclosure while a pair of sisters are in another.

The Kuno National Park was chosen as the optimum location to introduce the extinct animal due to its good prey base for Cheetahs.

The park has a good population of chinkara, spotted deer, and blackbuck, on which the Cheetahs can prey and grow in the wild. Here, facilities for the big cats have been developed, staff have been trained, and larger predators, such as leopards, have been moved out.

The project faced a setback with the death of six out of 20 Cheetahs including Dhatri, Sasha, Suraj, Uday, Daksha and Tejas. Additionally, four cubs were born in India, out of which three died and the fourth is being raised in captivity.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a wildlife enthusiast was present to click the Cheetah release into his photo frame soon after its release from the cage. All eight Cheetas were airlifted from Namibia in specially designed aircraft to their destination, Kuno-Palpur.

The special occasion to commemorate the birthday celebration of PM Modi was marked by a much-hyped show. To create awareness around man-animal conflict, the PM launched an ambitious ‘Cheetah Mitra’ yojna to encourage local stakeholders to learn about the shy beast.

Initially, the idea to develop Kuno-Palpur as the second home for the big cat Lion from Gir National Park, Gujarat, never materialised.

Eventually, it was picked for the Cheetah re-introduction project. Now it remains to be seen the success of the project largely depends on survival, mating, maturing of cubs, acclimatization, etc in the second phase as it progresses.

Published 22 November 2023, 12:56 IST

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