SC appointed panel rejects years-old plan to introduce African cheetahs in India
An ambitious, if woolly headed, scheme to introduce cheetahs from Africa to India to compensate for the extinction of a different sub-species of the big cat in India at least 50 years ago, may finally be dead with a Supreme Court appointed panel advising against it last week.
Amicus in the case ADN Rao submitted the report prepared by the Central Empowered Committee based on peer reviewed papers on cheetahs by Kelly Marnewick of South Africa, LL Marker of Namibia and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and said India does not have “required habitat and prey density” to support cheetahs. He accused a government-run research institute of “incorrectly compressing” data to get the approval of the apex court to seek the reintroduction of the big cat from Africa.
In 2010, the central government set up an expert panel for reintroducing the cheetah in India. This panel recommended that the home of the fastest animal in the world could be Kuno Palpur in Madhya Pradesh, Velavadar National Park in Gujarat and Tal Chapar sanctuary in Rajasthan. Kuno Palpur was also the place prepared by Madhya Pradesh to house Asiatic lions from Gujarat, till the latter refused to share its pride.
Wildlife activists filed a petition in the Supreme Court against the plan to reintroduce cheetahs into India. The court asked Rao to get the issue examined by experts. Before the panel could submit its report, the Madhya Pradesh government sought permission of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) to translocate cheetahs from Africa last month.
“It is submitted that India simply does not have the required habitat and the prey density to support the cheetah,” said the report of experts submitted to the court last week, claiming that the three proposed habitats do not have the requisite area and prey population to support the big cats.
Serengeti National Park in Tanzania has an area of 14,750 square kilometres brimming with prey base, while the Kruger National Park in South Africa is spread across 19,485 sq km. Compared to them, the proposed Indian wildlife habitats do not have an area of more than 1,000 sq km, and with much less prey base than the African homes of cheetahs; the cats need an antelope every third day to survive, the report said.
The report also dismissed claims made by the Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India (WII) that cheetahs could coexist with humans, survive on a low prey base and do not need vast grasslands. WII selected Kuno for reintroduction of the animal.
“In India, this (reintroduction) would bring them (cheetahs) into human dominant landscape and result in serious man-animal conflict with disastrous consequences,” the report said, citing examples of Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe where cheetahs have flourished because of no human interference.
WII director RK Mathur declined comment saying he hasn’t seen the report.
The report also said that the cheetahs’ reintroduction was not examined by the national board for wildlife in detail as claimed by the government. It added that the National Wildlife Action Plan (2017-2031) is also silent on it.
“It would therefore be correct to assume that the reintroduction of cheetah has never been an issue of any significance. It has never been a subject of consultation among experts, much less widely deliberated, and therefore has any support in the country. Under the circumstances, reintroduction of cheetah cannot be accepted as a national priority,” Rao said in his report.
According to the report, the government proposes to bring cheetahs involved in cattle/game lifting from private game ranches, and some of them were captured and spared from being shot by ranch owners; this raises the question over the quality of cheetahs to be reintroduced, the report said.
Delhi-based biologist Fayaz Khudsar said the plan hasn’t been thought through and claimed it is being pushed to fulfil the dream of a former Indian Forest Service officer. “We cannot translocate lions from Gir, who are dying because of canine distemper virus. But, we want cheetahs with which we have no experience,” Ravi Chellam, a Bangalore-based ecologist, said.
Cheetahs roamed India’s grasslands till the 1950s when they were hunted to extinction from the country. Iran has a sub-species of the Asiatic cheetah but has refused to share them with India, forcing the government to look for African ones. The Asian and the African species separated between 30,000 and 60,000 years ago.
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