Calm cheetahs adapting well to new home in Kuno

Updated on Sep 19, 2022 04:27 AM IST

Travelling over 8,000km from Namibia, the big cats entered their 15x30 metre enclosure at Kuno at around 11am on Saturday.

One of the cheetahs at Kuno on Sunday. (HT Photo)
One of the cheetahs at Kuno on Sunday. (HT Photo)
By, Bhopal, Sheopur

It was a bright, sunny afternoon in Sheopur, Madhya Pradesh, with the mercury touching 36 degrees Celsius on Sunday. A four-year-old cheetah, christened Asha by Prime Minister Narendra Modi upon her release into Kuno National Park on Saturday, sat under the shade of a tree in her enclosure.

She was named Asha — Hindi for hope — as the country, after a decades-long effort, brought the animals back to the country, in a bid to restore a species that was declared extinct in 1952 due to poaching and shrinking of grasslands.

Also Read | PM Modi names one cheetah Asha, other big cats have been christened too

“The female cheetah was captured in a trap cage on the farm of a Namibian businessman neighbouring CCF’s in July 2022. She was released on CCF property but was again caught in August. On September 17, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was given the gift of naming this cheetah in honour of his birthday. PM Modi chose the name Asha, which means hope,” said Susan Yannetti, coordinator, Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF).

Asha is among the eight cheetahs that arrived in India when the much-watched intercontinental relocation culminated with PM Modi letting three of the felines into the park on Saturday.

The other five were released by officials and other dignitaries.

Travelling over 8,000km from Namibia, the big cats entered their 15x30 metre enclosure at Kuno at around 11am on Saturday.

Also Read | ‘India to get more Cheetahs': Project chief amid cheer over return of big cats

In the 24 hours after that, six cheetahs were acclimatising themselves to their new environment, roaming around the enclosure, alert to every sound, and making sounds when they sensed something new. But the other two were a little shy and were taking time to settle down.

“The cheetahs slept through their 12-hour journey from Namibia, so they slept very little on Saturday night. They were feeling the new woodland ambience and hearing every sound. They snap to attention at every little sound, but they are calm. Two cheetahs are taking time to adjust but they are healthy,” Wildlife Institute of India dean YV Jhala said.

The felines were fed three kg of buffalo meat each, certified by veterinarians, ataround 4pm on Saturday, and given water by their handlers, said Jhala.

“A medical check-up was done and all the cheetahs are healthy, and adapting to the new home very well,” said Laurie Marker, executive director of Cheetah Conservation Fund. Marker accompanied the animals from Namibia to India.

Also Read | 'Sara paisa barbad': BJP leader mocks at Akhilesh for 'meowing cheetah' tweet

Apart from the four-year-old Asha, there is a two-year-old female, another four-year-old, and two others, both aged five.

There are three males at the park — two brothers from the same litter aged 5.5 years, and the third, who is 4.5 years old.

“The two brothers, Freddie and Elton, are relaxing together. They cuddled up in the newly grown marble grass. They were also seen checking the fencing,” said the official cited above.

The female cheetahs were named Siyaya, Tblisi, Sasha and Savanaha, by CCF, while the third male cheetah was named Oban.

National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) secretary SP Yadav said: “All cheetahs are doing well as expected by the experts. They are healthy and calm. So far, experts haven’t found anything that raises concern.”

The eight big cats will spend a month in quarantine at the enclosure before they are shifted to a six square km enclosed patch of land within the national park where they will stay for up to four months before being released in the wild.

The government of India signed a memorandum of understanding with the government of Namibia on July 20 for biodiversity conservation, with a focus on the conservation and restoration of the cheetah.

CCF coordinated the translocation project on behalf of the Namibian government.

“Two experts from CCF, Eli Walker and Bart Balli will stay in India with the cheetahs to manage them and support the park staff. They are training the officials at the park on how to use all tools that researchers and cheetah managers use in conservation release projects,” an official from CCF said.

Walker and Balli, along with Indian officials including WII dean Jhala, are observing the cheetahs round the clock.

This will continue for 48 hours to see if there are behavioural changes or any kind of uneasiness among the animals, the CCF official cited above said. The animals were radio-collared before their departure from Namibia to help in observing them.

The cheetah was completely wiped out from India due to excessive hunting and shrinking grasslands, its natural habitat. The last cheetah was killed in Koria district of Chhattisgarh in 1947, and the species was declared extinct in 1952.

Efforts to bring the animal – the smallest of the big cats and the fastest land mammal – have been decades in the making, beginning with Indira Gandhi in the 1970s but always running into international diplomatic or legal hurdles, until now.

While some experts have expressed concerns about the project, Marker said the African Cheetahs will adapt easily to the Indian habitat.

“India has been thinking about translocation since the cheetah was declared extinct. A plan was put together in 2009 by a team of specialists from the government and forestry department. Adaptation will be challenging and we all will need to work hard in our monitoring efforts. If conducted properly this will work. Cheetahs are adaptable. But there will be disappointments, we realize that and hope the world will understand as well,” Laurie told news agency ANI.

Twelve more cheetahs are expected to translocated from South Africa next month. Over the next five years, the government plans to bring around 50 cheetahs under the project.

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    She is a senior reporter based at Bhopal. She covers higher education, social issues, youth affairs, woman and child development related issues, sports and business & industries.

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