3rd cheetah dies in Kuno Park
The two-year-old cheetah, Daksha, was found severely injured in her enclosure around 10.45am on Tuesday, and a team of veterinarians were treating her, a statement from the forest department said.
A female cheetah died of injuries reportedly sustained in a fight with a coalition of male cheetahs during mating, officials said on Tuesday, with the death marking the third casualty at the Kuno National Park in less than two months.
The two-year-old cheetah, Daksha, was found severely injured in her enclosure around 10.45am on Tuesday, and a team of veterinarians were treating her, a statement from the Madhya Pradesh forest department said.
“She died in the afternoon,” the statement said.
The statement said the gates of Daksha’s enclosure, and of the two male cheetahs, Agni and Vayu, were opened on May 1, respectively, after a team of experts from India and South Africa visited the park on April 30 and decided to allow mating.
“Dr Amit Mallick, inspector general of National Tiger Conservation Authority, (NTCA), Dr Qamar Qureshi of Wildlife Institute of India, Adrian Tordiffe, professor and veterinarian from South Africa, and Vincent van der Merwe, cheetah meta population project manager from South Africa, visited Kuno National Park and decided to open gates for mating,” the statement read.
On May 6, the coalition of the male cheetahs entered Daksha’s enclosure, the statement said.
Male cheetahs, normally brothers, tend to form coalitions allowing them to hunt for larger prey together. A coalition of cheetahs also competes for a female during mating.
“The male cheetahs turned violent” during mating, the statement said, adding that “fights between cheetahs during mating period are common”.
“Prima facie, the wounds found on the female cheetah Daksha seem to have been caused by a violent interaction with the male, possibly during mating,” the statement said.
An autopsy of the female cheetah is being conducted by the veterinary team, it said.
In the first inter-continental translocation project, eight cheetahs were shifted to Kuno National Park from Namibia on September 17, 2022, after a decades-long effort to restore a species that was declared extinct in 1952, owing to poaching and shrinking grasslands. On February 18, 12 cheetahs were translocated from South Africa. On March 27, Sasha, who was brought from Namibia, died due to medical reasons, followed by Uday on April 23.
Experts said that it was not unusual for cheetahs to exhibit aggressive behaviour.
“Regrettably, Daksha lost her life in this incident. It is not unusual for male cheetahs to exhibit aggressive behaviour towards each other, as well as towards females. Cheetahs killing other cheetahs account for 8% of cheetah mortality in the Southern African metapopulation. It’s a natural death, male coalition killed a female,” Merwe said.
An official familiar with the matter said that while the cheetahs are being monitored constantly, it is difficult for the monitoring team to interfere during the mating period.
“Male cheetahs form a coalition and they often take a female hostage until it becomes receptive and is ready to mate. For obvious reasons the female is extremely stressed and tries to escape resulting in frequent eruptions of hostility between opposite sexes. In a rare event, especially when animals are young, inexperienced or stressed due to captive conditions, males can counter female aggression with brute force, injuring or killing the lighter bodied female. I was not at the site and hence one can only guess the series of events that may have led to this unfortunate incident,” said Anish Andheria, a big cat expert.
“Could the monitoring team have intervened? The answer is that in a large, forested enclosure (approximately one hectare), where this incident seems to have happened, it is never easy to approach a highly timid species, as animals will rapidly move away from the dirt tracks,” he added.
Experts said the cheetahs might be stressed due to their large number in the limited space at Kuno.
There are 14 adult cheetahs and four cubs inside seven enclosures within a bigger, 6 sq km enclosure at the park, the expert said requesting anonymity. Namibian cheetahs are bred in captivity but the South African cheetahs are from the wild, he said.
“In case of South African cheetahs, all are from the wild and they are under stress because of being in captivity for a very long period (since August 2022),” he said. Three other cheetahs have been released into the wild so far.
To prevent further deaths, he suggested the government should take a quick decision to release the cheetahs, especially the 12 from South Africa, into the wild.
“The government should explore all options including releasing cheetahs in Mukundara Hills in Rajasthan,” the expert said.
The Madhya Pradesh forest department is preparing the Gandhi Sagar Wildlife Sanctuary in Mandasaur district as a second home for the cheetahs, saidJS Chauhan, chief wildlife warden, MP Forest. However, the second site is unlikely to be ready before July this year, he added.