The State of India’s Cheetah Reintroduction Project – A Year On
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On the first anniversary of the arrival of eight African cheetahs from Namibia to Kuno National Park (KNP), Madhya Pradesh, it’s time to take stock of the progress and challenges of India’s cheetah reintroduction project. The project aims to establish a viable cheetah metapopulation in India, but the current status raises concerns.
Delayed Releases and Quarantine
Upon arrival, the cheetahs were supposed to undergo a 30-day quarantine in predator-proof enclosures. However, it took longer for some to be released into larger enclosures. Delays in this crucial process were observed, which could have been avoided.
Lack of Public Information
The Action Plan for the project mentions scientific assessments to check for potential carnivore pathogens and diseases in the release sites. However, there’s no public information about whether these assessments were carried out and their results, despite the deaths of three cheetahs possibly due to native pathogens.
Flaws in Animal Selection
The Action Plan states that animals suitable for release should be chosen by experts and verified. Yet, some cheetahs imported had pre-existing conditions, and two were not fit for wild release due to being hand-reared. This suggests a faulty selection process.
Deviation from Release Plans
The project’s release plans specified the separation of males and females, with males being released first. However, evidence suggests that males and females were placed in the same enclosure, deviating from the prescribed guidelines.
Out of the 20 adult cheetahs imported, four died in captivity, and two died while ranging free. Three out of four cubs from a litter have also died. Currently, 14 adult cheetahs and one cub remain in some form of captivity.
Cheetahs are a low-density species that require extensive habitat. India lacks the necessary 5,000 sq km of suitable habitat for the cheetahs, making the establishment of a viable population challenging.
Lack of Scientific Input
The project needed input from scientists and conservationists experienced with wild cheetahs. Ignoring such expertise and criticism has hindered the project’s progress.
Transparency and Communication
Initiatives like this should be inclusive and transparent in planning and implementation. Unfortunately, there appears to be a lack of information sharing in recent months.
In summary, India’s cheetah reintroduction project faces significant challenges and deviations from the initial plan. The project’s goal of establishing a viable cheetah population in India still seems distant, raising concerns about its progress and long-term success.
Source: The Indian Express