Over 70 years after it went extinct in India, the cheetah will return to the country.
GS III: Environment and Ecology
Dimensions of the Article:
- What caused the extinction of cheetahs in India?
- Why is the cheetah being brought back?
- How was Kuno National Park chosen for the translocation?
- What are the future plans to increase cheetah population in India?
- About Cheetah
- Eight African cheetahs from Namibia — five females and three males between the ages of 4-6 years — will be flown 8,000 km over the Indian ocean to the Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh, where they will be released as part of India’s Rs 90-crore Cheetah Introduction project.
- This is the first time in the world that a large carnivore will be relocated from one continent to another.
What caused the extinction of cheetahs in India?
- The cheetah in India has been recorded in history from before the Common Era. It was taken from the wild for coursing blackbuck for centuries, which is a major contributor to the depletion of its numbers through the ages.
- However, the final phase of its extinction coincided with British colonial rule. The British added to the woes of the species by declaring a bounty for killing it in 1871.
- Major reasons for the extinction of the Asiatic cheetah in India.
- The consistent and widespread capture of cheetahs from the wild (both male and female) over centuries
- Its reduced levels of genetic heterogeneity due to a historical genetic bottleneck resulting in reduced fecundity and high infant mortality in the wild.
- Its inability to breed in captivity.
- Sport hunting.
- Bounty killings.
- It is reported that the Mughal Emperor Akbar had kept 1,000 cheetahs in his menagerie and collected as many as 9,000 cats during his half century reign from 1556 to 1605.
- As late as 1799, Tipu Sultan of Mysore is reported to have had 16 cheetahs as part of his menagerie.
- It is recorded that the last cheetahs were shot in India in 1947, but there are credible reports of sightings of the cat till about 1967.
Why is the cheetah being brought back?
- The aim behind the translocation is not only to restore India’s ‘historic evolutionary balance’, but also to develop a cheetah ‘metapopulation’ that will help in the global conservation of the animal.
- While attempts to relocate cheetahs to India began in 2009, it was only in 2020 that the Supreme Court of India finally gave the green signal for such efforts.
- As it is a flagship species, the conservation of the cheetah will revive grassland-forests and its biome and habitat, much like Project Tiger has done for forests and all the species found in these forests.
- Project Tiger has also resulted in the conservation of 250 water bodies found in India’s 52 Tiger Reserves.
- The Cheetah Project is likely to have a similar impact.
- The translocation project has also helped conservation efforts in Africa, in particular South Africa.
South African cheetah:
- The South African cheetah population had dwindled two decades ago, before the conservation programme ensured that the numbers increased – of the global cheetah population of 7,000, 4,500 belong to South Africa.
- The cheetah is believed to have originated in South Africa and spread across the world through land connectivity.
- In the Kalahari, the cheetah was once critically endangered due to poaching and hunting. But now, with healthy female cheetahs producing five to six cubs each, South Africa is rapidly running out of space for its cheetah population.
How was Kuno National Park chosen for the translocation?
Lion relocation project
- Six sites, which had been previously assessed in 2010 for the translocation of the Asiatic Lion, were re-assessed by WII in 2020.
- Of these six sites, Kuno, which had been monitored since 2006, was found to be ready to receive the cheetah immediately, as it had already been prepared for the Asiatic Lion. Both animals share the same habitat – semi-arid grasslands and forests that stretch across Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
- The upgradation of sites required investment on a large scale in terms of reducing anthropogenic pressures through relocation of villages, mitigating infrastructure (roadways and railway) and prey augmentation for the cheetah through translocation of blackbuck, chital, chinkara and wild boar, among other animals.
- In Kuno National Park, because of the lion relocation project, the Madhya Pradesh Forest Department had already relocated 24 of the 25 villages and declared it a national park, which led to “remarkable recovery in its habitat, prey abundance and reduction of human impact”, according to the assessment carried out by WII in 2020.
- Only one village – Bagcha, with a population of 148 – remains on the fringes of the forest.
- In Sheopur district, where Kuno is located, rainfall levels, temperatures, altitude, and conditions are similar to conditions in both South Africa and Namibia.
- The leopard and striped hyena are currently the only larger carnivores within the national park, the single lone tiger having returned to Ranthambore in 2019-20.
What are the future plans to increase cheetah population in India?
- Over the coming 15 years, the Indian government will acquire two to four cheetahs from Africa, with the process undertaken at an interval of one to four years, to establish a breeding cheetah metapopulation of 35-40 in the country.
- Once the population in Kuno National Park has adapted and is flourishing, the Indian government will expand the efforts to reserves in other parts of the country as well.
- Cheetah can also live in a wide range of habitats, which includes the most prominent semi-arid grassland, but also coastal scrubs, wooded savannah, Montane habitat, snow deserts and rugged semi-arid areas.
- The cheetah is one of the oldest of the big cat species, with ancestors that can be traced back more than five million years to the Miocene era.
- The cheetah is also the world’s fastest land mammal that lives in Africa and Asia.
- IUCN status – Vulnerable
- CITES status – Appendix-I of the List. This List comprises of migratory species that have been assessed as being in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of their range.
- Habitat – Around 6,500-7,000 African cheetahs present in the wild.
- Physical Characteristics – Bigger in size as compared to Asiatic Cheetah.
- IUCN Status – Critically Endangered.
- CITES – Appendix 1 of the list
- Habitat – 40-50 found only in Iran.
- Physical Characteristics – Smaller and paler than the African cheetah. Has more fur, a smaller head and a longer neck. Usually have red eyes and they have a more cat-like appearance.
-Source: Indian Express