How Kolhapur princely state got African cheetahs in early 1900s
Around 60 years ago, Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj from Kolhapur princely state brought cheetahs from Africa to his kingdom
PUNE Madhya Pradesh’s Kuno Palpur National Park (KNP) welcomed eight cheetahs from Namibia on Saturday, marking a historic return of the predator several decades after it went extinct in India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi released the animals into an enclosure spread over 10km.
Amid questions over whether the animal will be acclimatised to new climatic conditions, history from Maharashtra can offer a cue. Around 60 years ago, Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj from Kolhapur brought cheetahs from Africa to his kingdom. Most of these animals got accustomed to the new place and were later trained for nabbing prey.
In the book ‘Athwanitil Shikar’ by an IT professional Yashodhan Joshi, a story of one Lilavati Jadhav, an associate of the royal family, mentions the hunting practices during that time. In the book, the very first reference to African cheetahs is mentioned who were trained to hunt blackbucks in the vast grasslands of Kolhapur.
“I met Jadhav (kaki) in 2017 when I was researching elephants used in royal games in Kolhapur. It was while interacting with her that I realised that in her 90’s she still had a tremendous memory and she was part of the hunting party,” said Joshi.
“It was interesting to learn first-hand about various hunting practices, the procedures, and also how the royals hunted. Jadhav, who was an avid lover of cheetahs and horses, said that it was easy to hunt a tiger while sitting atop a machan, which is a platform erected in a tree, used originally for hunting large animals and now for watching animals in wildlife reserves, but it was the other animals like wild boars which offered equal risk,” he said.
Hunting was a royal sport in princely states of India then and the tradition of hunting has been there for many years, and there are references of the same in Ramayana and Mahabharat.
It was Shahu Maharaj who got the Cheetahs from Africa to Kolhapur and for almost forty years, an army of cheetahs some named Star, Bhawani, Shankar, Lakshmi, Ganpya and Veermati, roamed freely during the rule of Chhatrapati in Kolhapur.
“Cheetahs were not ample, like tigers. Shahu Maharaj saw this fierce animal hunting when he was with the king of Bhavnagar. Thus, later he sent his Chittawans to Bhavnagar. These trainers would later teach the animal and train them to kill blackbucks during a hunting party,” added Joshi.
“The Maharaj bought the cheetahs from Nairobi, where there used to be a market for the sale of cheetahs. King’s men would go to Nairobi and bring the cheetahs by ship, and then onto a special container on a freight train to Kolhapur by train from Mumbai. Thus, adding to the number and there were 60 to 70 cheetahs, from 1900 to 1940 in Kolhapur. During this time there was a place called cheetah ‘karkhana’ or ‘chittekhana,’ which is at the spot where Vikram High School in Kolhapur now stands, to keep the tamed cheetahs. Five people on a rotation basis were deployed to take care of a cheetah,” he said.