Madhya Pradesh seeks relocation of some of cheetahs brought from Africa

Apr 18, 2023 10:31 PM IST

Kuno National Park received eight cheetahs from Namibia and 12 from South Africa seven decades after their population went extinct in the country

The Madhya Pradesh government has asked the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) to find a new habitat in the wild for some of the cheetahs brought to Kuno National Park from Africa as they would not be able to monitor the movements of all of them living free, officials aware of the matter said on Tuesday.

A cheetah at the Kuno National Park. (PTI)
A cheetah at the Kuno National Park. (PTI)

Kuno received eight cheetahs from Namibia and 12 from South Africa seven decades after their population went extinct in the country. Four of the cheetahs were released in the wild in March. One died while the remaining are ready to be released from a six square km enclosure into the wild over the next three to four months.

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The first batch of the cheetahs travelled over 8,000km from Namibia in September last year to Kuno. It represented a key milestone for a decades-long effort to restore the species declared extinct in 1952 due to poaching and the shrinking of grasslands.

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

A Madhya Pradesh forest department official said the Kuno National Park spread over 748 square km can accommodate only nine to 10 cheetahs as a cheetah’s territory is spread over 300 to 800 square km. Of the four cheetahs released in the wild, two are exploring a large part of the buffer area, the official added. Recently Oban, one of them, was brought back to the park from a nearby village.

“We have deployed two teams of 18 officials around the clock to monitor cheetahs in the wild. For monitoring 17 cheetahs in the wild, we have at least 126 forest officials equipped with drones, vehicles, and wireless sets,” he said.

The official said having so many people inside the park for tracking would disturb the natural habitat. “ we wrote to the NTCA for arranging a second home for the cheetahs,” said a second official.

The Gandhisagar Wildlife Sanctuary in Mandsaur was selected as the second home but readying it will take another year, officials said.

South African cheetah expert Vincent van der Merwe said Mukandara is the best possible site for cheetahs as it was also included in the risk management plan. “It would be a wise decision to send some cheetahs to Mukandara.”

Wildlife Institute of India (WII) scientist Qamar Qureshi, who is in charge of the project, said releasing all cheetahs in the wild in Kuno was never the plan.

“We know that Kuno does not have enough space for all cheetahs and that is why Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary, Mukandra Wildlife Sanctuary, and Gandhisagar Wildlife Sanctuary were selected as other possible homes for them,” he said. Qureshi added Mukandara in Rajasthan is ready and the Union environment ministry and NTCA will have to take a final decision.

Madhya Pradesh’s chief wildlife warden JS Chauhan said they do not want to take any risk. “We are looking at all the aspects and have informed the NTCA about it. NTCA and the environment ministry will take the final decision.”

Congress lawmaker and Rajasthan Wildlife Board member Bharat Singh said he visited Mukandara with a team of WII and experts from South Africa and they said it was the best place for the cheetahs. “Because Rajasthan is a Congress-ruled state, they [cheetahs] were taken to Madhya Pradesh.”

A Rajasthan forest department official said they are ready to have cheetahs at Mukandara provided the translocation is approved.

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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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