India delegation heads to Namibia to discuss cheetah translocation

Updated on Feb 18, 2022 02:31 AM IST

A delegation from India left for Namibia on Thursday to discuss cheetah translocation logistics with the Namibia government, according to people familiar with the development.

The cheetahs will be translocated eventually to Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh. (Getty/Representational)
The cheetahs will be translocated eventually to Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh. (Getty/Representational)
ByJayashree Nandi, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

A delegation from India left for Namibia on Thursday to discuss cheetah translocation logistics with the Namibia government, according to people familiar with the development.

The team, with representatives from National Tiger Conservation Authority, environment ministry, Wildlife Institute of India, and the Madhya Pradesh government, will be identifying suitable cheetahs to begin the process of health screening and putting them under quarantine for travel to India. The cheetahs will be translocated eventually to Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh.

“We cannot say how long this process will take. We need to work out the logistics first,” said a senior official of NTCA, who asked not to be named.

“The goal of the project is to establish a viable cheetah metapopulation in India that allows the cheetah to perform its functional role as a top predator and to provide space for the expansion of the cheetah within its historical range thereby contributing to its global conservation efforts,” a note shared by NTCA said.

Environment minister, Bhupender Yadav is also likely to participate in the discussions when he visits Africa in March, a second official added.

“An expert team is leaving for Namibia this morning to finalise modalities for the translocation of 8-10 cheetahs to the Kuno National Park in MP. An initiative launched in 2010 is finally coming into fruition. I wish them the very best!” tweeted Jairam Ramesh, Congress leader and former environment minister, during whose stint the plan was hatched.

“As is obvious the introduction of the cheetah is not only a species recovery program but an effort to restore ecosystems with a lost element that has played a significant role in their evolutionary history, allow ecosystems to provide services to their full potential, and use the cheetah as an umbrella species for conserving the biodiversity of grasslands, savanna and open forest systems,” the NTCA note added.

Some experts have been critical of the cheetah reintroduction project because it deprives lions of a suitable habitat.

“Introduction of African cheetahs to Kuno National Park will further delay the translocation of the Asiatic lion resulting in increased risks for the last surviving wild population of lions in Asia. Crores of rupees have been spent by the Government of India and the State of Madhya Pradesh for preparing Kuno to play host to the lions. Nine years since the 2013 SC order on lion translocation to Kuno, the lions have not yet been translocated and the plans to introduce African cheetahs have not ceased. The Expert Committee appointed by the Supreme Court in 2013 to advise the government on lion translocation, of which I am a member, hasn’t met since December 2016. In our last meeting in Kuno, everyone, apart from the representatives of the Gujarat State government, strongly stated that Kuno was ready to receive the lions. But neither the Union government nor the State government of Gujarat have taken any tangible action to translocate the lions,” said Ravi Chellam, CEO, Metastring Foundation and a member of the Biodiversity Collaborative.

According to the “Action Plan for Introduction of Cheetah in India” released by the environment ministry during the 19th meeting of National Tiger Conservation Authority last month, a cohort of around 12-14 cheetahs will be imported from South Africa or Namibia and each of them will be fitted with a satellite-GPS-very high frequency radio-collar.

Union environment minister Yadav, in a statement on January 5 said, “Prime Minister Narendra Modi is keen on protection and conservation of seven major big cats... Cheetah numbering 50 over a period of five years will be introduced in various parks.”

International transportation will be done by either a commercial airline or by a chartered flight following which the wild cats will be transported to Kuno Palpur National Park (KNP) in Madhya Pradesh. Officials who attended the meeting said the cheetah, the world’s fastest land animal, was expected to be reintroduced into the country in November 2021 but the plan got derailed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. “The animals’ lineage and condition shall be checked in the host country to ensure that they are not from an excessively inbred stock and are in the ideal age group, so as to conform to the needs of a founding population,” said the over 300-page plan.

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