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Pardhis: The Traditional Custodians of Cheetahs


Recently, cheetahs were reintroduced in Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh, marking a major milestone for the $5 million translocation project. In this context, the ‘pardhis’ possess knowledge that has the potential to greatly augment the scope and efficiency of our conservation initiatives.


GS3- Environment- Conservation, Biodiversity

Mains Question:

Analyse the significance and risks associated with the cheetah translocation project. What role can the tribal group Pardhis play in this regard? (10 marks, 150 words).

Significance of the introduction of cheetah:

  • Authorities argue that reintroducing a top predator like the cheetah can improve the area’s overall biodiversity by restoring the predator-prey balance.
  • Cheetah presence could attract tourists, boost the local economy, and generate funds for conservation.
  • From a scientific perspective, it can offer valuable data on reintroduction methodologies and challenges, applicable globally for this “vulnerable” species.
  • Additionally, the presence of a historically significant animal can instill pride in local communities, furthering the cause of conservation.

Concerns associated with the performance of the initiative:

  • Nine cheetahs, including six adults and three out of four cubs born in India, have tragically succumbed to various afflictions, such as renal failure, physical injury, and humidity-related infestations.
  • Questions have been raised about the labeling of the cheetah’s ‘introduction’ as a ‘reintroduction’ and concerns about the suitability of Kuno as an ideal habitat.
  • Some argue that the cheetah’s claim to fill a unique ecological niche is not well-founded, given the presence of native predators.
  • Moreover, there are worries about potential human-wildlife conflicts and limited consultation with experts in cheetah ecology.

The Pardhis- Cheetah connection:

  • Historically, the Asiatic cheetah thrived in diverse ecosystems, and the ‘pardhis’ played a crucial role as specialized hunters.
  • They trapped, trained, and deployed cheetahs for hunting or traded them to the elite.
  • The decline of the cheetah population in the wild was due to excessive hunting. Over time, the introduction of African cheetahs by the aristocracy further diminished the Asiatic cheetah’s presence.
  • The ‘pardhis’ were declared a criminal tribe in 1871, but their expertise in hunting and conservation-oriented rules influenced wildlife-related regulations in India.
  • Despite the removal of the ‘criminal tribe’ label in 1952, their perception by enforcement agencies remained largely unchanged.
  • The ban on hunting marginalized them, leading some to engage in illegal activities.

Way Forward:

  • The current cheetah translocation project, touted as the “world’s first intercontinental large wild carnivore translocation project,” presents unique challenges.
  • The cheetahs must adapt to an unfamiliar ecosystem with different food webs and climatic conditions. To ensure success, a professional and collaborative approach is essential.
  • Utilizing traditional knowledge from the ‘pardhis’ is crucial, as seen in successful initiatives employing indigenous people in wildlife conservation.


The ‘pardhis’ are more than a tribe; they are stewards of centuries-old wisdom deeply intertwined with local ecosystems and cultures. Despite the unjust stigma of being labeled a criminal tribe, their potential as allies in conservation is significant. The decision to tap into their wisdom lies in our hands, and it could significantly enhance the effectiveness of our current conservation approaches.

December 2023