The world’s fastest mammals are set to roam on Indian shores once again, nearly 75 years after the last cheetah was killed. A five-member delegation from India visited Namibia this week to hold discussions on translocating the animals to India. The delegation included officials and experts from Madhya Pradesh, the Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change, and the Wildlife Institute of India.
Last year, the Centre approached the government of Namibia, known as the world’s cheetah capital, for support in sending a few cheetahs for re-introduction into the wild in a scientific and carefully-monitored manner.
Indian High Commissioner to Namibia Prashant Agarwal said: “India is prepared and ready, and we are hopeful of achieving this by mid-2022.”
He added that the Namibian cheetahs would be the country’s goodwill ambassadors to India on what would be the country’s 75th year of Independence.
The cheetah is the only large carnivore to have gone extinct in India. Since then, India has committed to stringent laws against poaching and hunting and also undertaken biodiversity conservation efforts. Home to about 3,000 wild tigers or 60% of the world’s tiger population, India has already achieved the 2018 Saint Petersburg Declaration’s target of doubling the wild cats’ population. The conservation efforts have also led to a rebound in the number of Asiatic lions from 50 in the last century to around 700 today.
The country now plans to bring over a dozen cheetah from Africa over five years. In response to a question in the Lok Sabha, Minister of State for Environment, Forest & Climate Change Ashwini Kumar Choubey said the Centre had earmarked Rs 38.70 crore from Project Tiger for the re-introduction of cheetahs between 2021-22 and 2025-26.
Maharaja Ramanuj Pratap Singh Deo of Koriya, Surguja, in modern-day Chhattisgarh shot dead the last three Asiatic cheetahs in India. The animal was officially declared extinct in India in 1952.
The Kuno Palpur National Park in Sheopur, Madhya Pradesh, has been tentatively earmarked for the translocation of 12-15 cheetahs. Located 125 km from Gwalior airport, the 344-sq km national park was recommended as one of the three potential sites for the cheetah project in 1992.
The Centre launched its action plan at the 19th National Tiger Conservation Authority meeting. As part of the project, 50 cheetahs will be introduced in India in five years. The plan, however, went into a limbo following the outbreak of Covid-19.
According to the 300-page action plan, an existing coalition of wild males would be selected while the females selected would be known to each other as far as possible.
The animals’ lineage and condition will be checked in the host country to rule out excessive inbred stock in order to conform to the needs of a founding population.
In 2020, the Supreme Court approved the plan to introduce African cheetahs on an experimental basis in a habitat that could be clearly monitored to check their adaptability to Indian conditions.
The Wildlife Institute of India, in collaboration with the Wildlife Trust of India, recommended Kuno Palpur and two other sites for the project following an assessment in 2010.