India, Namibia ink pact on Cheetah relocation

Updated on Jul 21, 2022 05:58 AM IST

The animal will return into a wild enclosure in India 69 years after the last recorded surviving cheetah in India was hunted down in Chhattisgarh in 1952

A male African cheetah in an enclosure at the Nehru Zoological Park in Hyderabad. (AFP File Photo)
A male African cheetah in an enclosure at the Nehru Zoological Park in Hyderabad. (AFP File Photo)
By, New Delhi/bhopal

India and Namibia on Wednesday signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to reintroduce cheetahs in the country after nearly seven decades, with the Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh likely to receive the first tranche of eight cheetahs by August 15.

Separately, India is also expected to get 12 cheetahs from South Africa, for which a draft agreement has already been signed, with a final one expected soon, officials familiar with the matter said.

The animal will return to a wild enclosure in India 69 years after the last recorded cheetah was hunted down in Chhattisgarh in 1952.

The translocation project is being managed by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) as part of the Cheetah Translocation Project (CTP) under the Union environment ministry.

Under CTP, the ministry aims to breed the animals in an enclosure in Kuno before releasing them into the wild.

The MoU was signed by Minister of Environment Forests and Climate Change, Bhupender Yadav and the deputy prime minister and foreign minister of Namibia, Netumbo Nandi Ndaitwah.

“Happy to share that India has signed a historic MoU with Namibia to promote Wildlife Conservation and Sustainable Biodiversity Utilization. The MoU seeks to promote conservation and restoration of cheetah in their former range from which the species went extinct,” Yadav tweeted after the MoU was signed.

NTCA additional director general (Project Tiger) and member secretary, SP Yadav, said they are trying to get the cheetahs to the country by August 15 to mark the country’s 75th Independence Day.

“This is an historic event. After a 75-year gap we will see cheetahs back in India. This will be the first intercontinental wild-to-wild transfer of cheetahs in the world. Some concerns regarding the agreement were there, but those have been resolved now. Negotiations on modalities of translocation are underway. Initially, we may get 8 cheetahs by August,” said Yadav.

“We have to make all arrangements and discuss all the modalities to fix the exact date of arrival,” an NTCA official said.

As per the agreement with Namibia, India will get eight cheetahs in two batches of four. The first batch is expected to arrive from an NGO in South Africa, officials said.

Kuno, which was home to Asian cheetahs over 100 years ago, is preparing for the translocation.

“We have completed all the basic preparation and also completed the work as recommended by the teams of South Africa and Namibia. Now, we are shifting prey base inside the fencing,” Madhya Pradesh chief wildlife warden, JS Chauhan, said.

In January 2021, a Supreme Court-mandated expert committee to implement CTP had selected Kuno as the habitat for the cheetahs. The panel surveyed 10 sites between 2010 and 2012.

The national park in Madhya Pradesh was finalised because of the investment already made in its protected area to reintroduce Asiatic lions — a highly secured semi-captive cage spread over 500 hectares, divided into nine parts — in the park.

CTP’s main goal is to establish a viable meta-population of the animal in the country, allowing it to perform its functional role as a top predator, and providing space for the expansion of the cheetah within its historical range, thereby contributing to its global conservation efforts, a statement by the environment ministry said on Wednesday.

The current carrying capacity of the Kuno National Park is 21 cheetahs. The capacity can be enhanced by including the remaining part of the Kuno Wildlife Division (1,280 sq km) through prey restoration, the ministry said.

Locations of the cheetah’s presence from southern Africa (South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe) were used along with relevant eco-climatic covariates to model an equivalent niche space in India using maximum entropy models, said NTCA officials familiar with the matter.

Environmentalists, however, are sceptical of the plan.

“This is not a conservation priority for India. If introduction of African cheetah is so important why doesn’t it figure in our National Wildlife Action Plan? The Asiatic lion does figure in it. It’s a vanity project. Isn’t the Asiatic lion as a predator higher up the food chain than the cheetah? All the ecological roles and functions claimed as benefits from the introduction of African cheetahs would be more than fulfilled by the translocated lions,” said wildlife biologist and conservation scientist Ravi Chellam.

“Translocation of lions to Kuno was ordered in 2013 by the Supreme Court. Fifteen years after the introduction, the maximum expected population of cheetahs is 21. It’s not even a self sustaining population. How can we expect the African cheetahs to help save our endangered species and habitats? The government says it has no money to bury power lines to save the Great Indian Bustard but so much money is being spent to introduce the African Cheetah. Why? This seems to be nothing but another effort to distract and delay the translocation of lions to Kuno,” he added.

The agreement between India and Namibia will be effective for an initial period of five years from the date of the last signature. Thereafter, it will be automatically renewed for successive 5-year periods, unless either party terminates the agreement by giving six months’ written notice to the other.

Areas of cooperation include biodiversity conservation, with a specific focus on conservation and restoration of cheetahs in their former range areas; sharing and exchange of expertise and capacities aimed at promoting cheetah conservation in two countries; wildlife conservation and sustainable biodiversity utilisation by sharing good practices in technological applications; mechanisms of livelihood generation for local communities living in wildlife habitats, and sustainable management of biodiversity.

The MoU also states that both countries will support advances in these spheres at international fora, including meetings of the convention on international trade in endangered species of flora and fauna.

Both countries will also collaborate in areas of climate change, environmental governance, environmental impact assessments, pollution and waste management, and exchange of personnel for training and education in wildlife management, including sharing of technical expertise, wherever relevant.

The Indian side will also train and support Namibian personnel in smart patrol, population estimation techniques and facilitate required equipment for surveillance and monitoring. India will also provide support to Namibia with two reserved seats in the 10-month post graduate diploma course in wildlife management conducted by the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun.

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