Union Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change Prakash Javadekar recently announced the Centre’s goal of bringing cheetahs back to India. Nearly 70 years after the cheetah was declared locally extinct, India will receive its first batch of the large cats from Africa by the end of 2021. Within a week’s time, two expert teams — one from Namibia and the other from 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 animals. This is the first time in the world that a large carnivore will be relocated from one continent to another. While the current relocation attempt began in 2009, it is only last year that the Supreme Court gave the green signal to the Centre.
The animal is believed to have disappeared from India when Maharaja Ramanuj Pratap Singh Deo of Koriya hunted and shot the last three recorded Asiatic cheetahs in India in 1947. It was declared extinct by the government in 1952. Excessive hunting, trafficking and a decline in forest are said to be the main reasons for India not having any cheetahs for 70 years.
An expert committee set up by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change under the chairmanship of Wildlife Trust of India board member and former Director Wildlife of the Indian Government, Dr M K Ranjitsinh, along with members of the Wildlife Institute of India, WWF, NTCA and officials from the Centre and states, have completed an assessment of the sites for relocation. Six sites, which had previously been assessed in 2010, have now been re-assessed by WII — Mukundara Hills Tiger Reserve and Shergarh Wildlife Sanctuary in Rajasthan and Gandhi Sagar Wildlife Sanctuary, Kuno National Park, Madhav National Park and Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh. Out of them only Kuno National Park has been deemed ready so far, owing to it being observed since 2006. The park was also chosen for relocating the Asiatic Lion since both animals share the same habitat.
Dean and expert committee member of the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dr Y V Jhala, said, “While there was never any problem with cheetahs and lions sharing the same space, the Supreme Court felt at the time this was not conducive to the lion. The court had instructed that the lion be introduced at Kuno in 2013; that is yet to happen. Last year, the Supreme Court gave the go ahead to introduce cheetahs here. But one site is not enough for a healthy population of cheetahs in the country. So, we will upgrade the other identified sites, which have conducive habitats, so it can be introduced in four-five places at least over the coming five or six years. But this year, we will relocate eight cheetahs to Kuno to begin with. The idea is to relocate 35-40 cheetahs across the identified sites.”