Wildlife experts sound concern as 12 cheetahs remain in South African quarantine
Twelve cheetahs, who are in quarantine in South Africa for the past three months for relocation to India, are under stress due to their long stay in an enclosure.
Twelve cheetahs, who are in quarantine in South Africa for the past three months for relocation to India, are under stress due to their long stay in an enclosure, officials said, raising questions over their ability to hunt in the wild if they are not moved out soon.
India translocated eight cheetahs from Namibia to Madhya Pradesh’s Kuno national park on September 17, and the animals are currently in a controlled 10-km area, from where they will be moved to a 6 sq km area after October 17 where prey will be introduced for hunting. After another 3-4 months, they will be moved to the wild.
The country is also expected to get 12 more cheetahs from South Africa this year, but the paperwork between the two countries is yet to be finalised.
“The 12 cheetahs were sent to a 50mx50m quarantine enclosure in Rooiberg from different wildlife reserves in June and July. After vaccination and radio collaring, the cheetahs are ready to translocate to Kuno in India under the intercontinental translocation project, but the delay is happening as South Africa and India are yet to sign memorandum of understanding,” said a South African cheetah expert, who asked not to be named.
He added that the bureaucratic delay may jeopardise a successful translocation of cheetahs in wild.
The cheetahs, who are in enclosure, are being provided food by killing prey from the wild. If it continues further, they will stop killing prey on their own, he added.
“Isolation captivity for long time always gives stress to wild big cats. The wild cat in enclosure comes under stress and brings many anomalies especially reduce their rate of survival in wild,” said Fayaz Khudsar, biologist and cheetah expert from Delhi.
Similar concerns were raised by Anish Andheria, CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Trust. “The enclosure should be big enough, and away from human presence. Small enclosure will increase the stress burden. According to international norms, the wild animals should be kept in the enclosure for only one month because scientifically it’s not good to keep animal in the enclosure for longer time. Longer time in the enclosure will reduce the survival rate of the cheetahs in the wild during reintroduction,” he said.
Wildlife Institute of India (WII) dean YV Jhala, who is leading the cheetah project in India, said, “It (long stay in an enclosure) will definitely affect the cheetahs, but we can’t say anything more on this at the moment.”
When contacted, South Africa metapopulation project head, Vincent Van Der Merwe, said there could be a problem, but refused to comment further.
South Africa’s Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment spokesperson, Albi Modise said, “I am not sure why we say it’s getting delayed. What was the time set for it?”
He did not comment on the process affecting the health of cheetahs in the enclosure.
“Scientists from South Africa visited us in September. We are yet to hear from them on the timeline for translocation of 12 cheetahs. There is no deadline for it,” said a senior environment ministry official on condition of anonymity.
After Namibia signed the MoU, the South Africa environment ministry raised concern over the project and asked for risk management plan, according to officials. A team of South Africa officials visited Kuno National Park in the first week of September and submitted a report to the ministry.
The MoU with South Africa is important as, every year 10 cheetahs will be imported to India under it. The Madhya Pradesh forest department has already started constructing a small quarantine facility for the translocation of cheetahs from South Africa. The move could happen by the end of the year, if the memorandum is signed in a month or so, officials said.