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The Complexities of Introducing African Cheetahs to India 

Context:

The cheetah, which became extinct in India after Independence, is all set to return with the Union Government launching an action plan in Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh. According to the plan, about 50 of these big cats will be introduced in the next five years, from the Africa savannas, home to cheetahs, an endangered species.

Relevance:

GS III- Environment and Ecology

Dimensions of the Article:
  1. What was the distribution of cheetahs in India?
  2. What caused the extinction of cheetahs in India?
  3. What is the current status of this project?
  4. About Cheetah

What was the distribution of cheetahs in India?

  • Historically, Asiatic cheetahs had a very wide distribution in India.
  • There are authentic reports of their occurrence from as far north as Punjab to Tirunelveli district in southern Tamil Nadu, from Gujarat and Rajasthan in the west to Bengal in the east.
  • Most of the records are from a belt extending from Gujarat passing through Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Odisha.
  • There is also a cluster of reports from southern Maharashtra extending to parts of Karnataka, Telangana, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
  • The distribution range of the cheetah was wide and spread all over the subcontinent.
  • They occurred in substantial numbers.
  • Habitats:
    • Scrub forests
    • Dry grasslands
    • Savannas
    • Other arid and semi-arid open habitats
  • Some of the last reports of cheetahs in India prior to their local extinction are from edge habitats of sal forests in east-central India, not necessarily their preferred habitat.
  • In Iran, the last surviving population of wild Asiatic cheetahs are found in hilly terrain, foothills and rocky valleys within a desert ecosystem

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.

What is the current status of this project?

  • According to the Government, Kuno is ready to receive the cheetahs.
  • About a month ago a team of government officials visited Namibia to inspect the cheetahs that would be sent to India, review the arrangements and to reach an agreement for the transfer of the cats.
  • It is being reported that Namibia wants India’s support for lifting the CITES ban on commercial trade of wildlife products, including ivory.
  • The draft memorandum of understanding shared by Namibia reportedly contains a condition requiring India to support Namibia for “sustainable utilisation of wildlife”.
  • The cheetahs are to be provided by the Cheetah Conservation Fund, an NGO, and not the Namibian government.
  • Three to five cheetahs are expected to be part of the first group of cats and these are expected to arrive as early as May 2022 and released in the wild by August 15.

Issues with Re introduction

  • Experts are divided on whether the reserve would provide a favourable climate for African cheetahs in terms of prey abundance.
  • Cheetah habitat was required to sustain a genetically viable population.

About Cheetah:

  • 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.
African Cheetah
  • 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.
Asian 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: The Hindu

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