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Introduction of Cheetahs in India: What do experts say

India has signed a historic MoU with Namibia to promote Wildlife Conservation and Sustainable Biodiversity Utilization. The MoU seeks to promote conservation and restoration of Cheetahs in their former range from which the species went extinct.

Before 15th August, India is expecting 8-9 Cheetahs to be brought to Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh.

Experts share their view on introduction of African Cheetahs in India.

Q: Will this experiment succeed in India?

Ravi Chellam, Conservation Scientist and Wildlife Biologist

“Indian Supreme Court had in January 2020 made it clear that the introduction of African Cheetahs in India will be experimental.

As per official documents, India is expected to have a maximum of 21 Cheetahs in the next 15 years. We will have to decide whether spending hundreds of crores and waiting for 15 years for 21 cheetahs is an indication of success or not.

“In 2018, India’s National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) had approached the Supreme Court of the country seeking permission to explore the introduction of Cheetah outside Kuno national park in the state of Madhya Pradesh. But now all the focus is on bringing them to Kuno. A lot of things are incorrect and confusing.”

Dr Dipankar Ghose, Director- Wildlife and Habitats, WWF India

“The reintroduction of a species in an area from where it has gone extinct is often extremely challenging, such actions demonstrate a strong commitment to conserve nature, and that this program has been initiated and supported by the Government – ​​it has slowed both weight and impetus .

“Success of reintroduction will depend on a variety of factors. In the immediate future, if the translocated individuals adapt to the enclosures they are released in, and go on to breed and find a population, these initial efforts will have succeeded. In the longer term, successful translocation will require that the species be reintroduced in its historical habitats in the wild.

“Ultimately, success may also be determined by whether the species will be able to survive and persist in the wild and be socially supported. Success will also be contingent on sustaining its besieged open habitats – grasslands, shrublands and commons so they support black buck, chinkara and other species that the Cheetah will depend on.”

YV Jhala, Dean, Wildlife Institute of India (WII)

“It is a major conservation initiative globally. There is no reason why it should fail when India has done so well at conserving its tigers, lions, and leopards, which are far more difficult than conserving Cheetahs.”

Q: Is bringing Cheetahs to India a good or a bad idea? And why?

Ravi Chelam

“Objectives are not clear. It seems a lot of negative impact will be there on conservative priorities of India. It’s not even mentioned in the national wildlife action plan then how are crores of funds allocated to this when other issues don’t have the same. It will shift focus from much more pressing issues.”

Dipankar Ghose

“Bringing the Cheetah to India sends a strong message about the commitment to shelter and sustain biodiversity for an imperiled species in an era of environmental devastation. The relocation shouldn’t be viewed in isolation, as an end in itself. These efforts to bring back a charismatic large predator need to be viewed against the backdrop of catastrophic declines of species globally. It would have been better to get the Asian subspecies, which is currently found only in Iran.

“Nevertheless, bringing the Cheetah back will make India the only country with five species of big cats: tiger, lion, leopard, snow leopard and cheetah (often considered as a big cat, though it cannot roar).

“Cheetah translocation efforts must thus be aligned with initiatives to revive, protect and sustainably manage grasslands and other open ecosystems across the Cheetah’s habitat in India – and strengthen conservation of diverse species of plants and animals, including the Great Indian Bustard that face great risks as their habitats are depleted and degraded.

“If we succeed on this front, the Cheetah translocation efforts may leave a lasting legacy for wildlife conservation in India. Only time will tell whether the Cheetah will go on to recolonize its historical habitats in India – and there will be great learning through this whole process.”

Y. V. Jhala

“Bringing Cheetahs here is a good idea. Restoring lost ecosystem elements is one way of conserving biodiversity. Top predators regulate all levels in a food chain and are considered as umbrella species. Once wolves were reintroduced into the Yellowstone Ecosystem in the USA their effects were seen even on vegetation and water flows in streams! Bringing back the cheetah to India which was part of its historical range will bring back the balance and restore an evolutionary force under which many functional traits of deer and antelopes have evolved.

“It is also the moral obligation of mankind to restore what has been destroyed by our actions. Cheetah is also our cultural heritage and finds mention in the Vedas and Puranas. Neolithic cave paintings of the cheetah are found near Bhopal and in Gandhisager dated 10-20 thousand years ago. So it is a very good idea!”

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