Climate and Us | The link between reintroducing Cheetahs and Nicobar
- At the core of both issues lies the question of our commitment to protecting life and habitats around us
India will soon embark on an ambitious project to introduce and maintain a population of at least 50 cheetahs in India over the next five years.
The charismatic, slender and agile cat disappeared from India’s grasslands and woodlands in the late 1940s mainly due to habitat destruction, bounty and sport hunting.
In 2009, it was decided that the cheetah could be reintroduced into India’s forests and after 13 years we are all set to translocate cheetahs from southern Africa— Namibia, Botswana and South Africa in the next few months.
Around 12 to 14 cheetahs from southern Africa would be captured from free-ranging conditions either by darting or in a trap-cage by experienced veterinarians and trappers, each cheetah will be fitted with a satellite-GPS-very high-frequency radio-collar for their future monitoring and individual identification in India. Following which they will, it is hoped, make Madhya Pradesh’s Kuno Palpur their home.
According to an action plan drafted by the Wildlife Institute of India and released by the ministry of environment and forests last week, the goals of this translocation are to establish breeding cheetah populations across their historical range and manage them as metapopulation; to use cheetah as a flagship and umbrella species to garner resources for restoring open forests and savanna systems; to enhance India’s capacity to sequester carbon through ecosystem restoration activities in cheetah landscapes; eco-tourism and eco-development and to win community support.
A Population Viability Analysis has shown that to sustain a long-term population, India will need to support a population of more than 50. Kuno Palpur offers the prospect of sustaining four large and medium felids in the long run—tiger, lion, leopard and the cheetah, the action plan stated.
The Centre is also preparing other sites like Nauradehi and Gandhisagar reserves through incentivised voluntary relocation of human settlements, prey supplementation, and habitat management through weed removal and livestock grazing control.
Reintroduction of the cheetah will be a scientific feat and possibly highlight the need to secure grasslands and forests for big- and medium-sized cats.
But do we have systems and policies in place to take care of important wildlife species and biodiversity? How can the pressure of diverting forest land be reduced and how do we ensure that important and endangered wildlife species do not remain restricted to islands of protected reserves but thrive in contiguous forests and corridors? These will be issues to ponder on as the cheetah reintroduction excitement takes over.
A recent development has caused much concern about the fate of the ecologically fragile Great Nicobar region, for example. Great Nicobar harbours a very large number of endemic and endangered species of fauna. There are 11 species of mammals, 32 species of birds, 7 species of reptiles and 4 species of amphibians that are endemic including the Crab-eating Macaque, Nicobar Tree Shrew, Dugong, Nicobar Megapode, Serpent Eagle, saltwater crocodile, marine turtles and Reticulated Python, the environment impact assessment report of the project states.
Niti Ayog and the Centre have conceptualised a development plan for Great Nicobar. The Andaman and Nicobar Pollution Control Committee has issued a public notice for public hearing of a project titled “Holistic Development of Great Nicobar Island in Andaman and Nicobar Islands” to be held on January 27, 2022.
The project involves the construction of an International Container Transhipment Terminal (ICTT); a greenfield airport (4000 passengers in peak hour); eco-tourism and residential township; and a 450 MVA gas/solar-based power project. For the development project, many reserved areas will have to be de-notified. This would include de-notification of land under forest reserve, Great Nicobar Biosphere reserve and a tribal reserve. Around 81.74% of the island area is presently under national parks, Great Nicobar Biosphere reserve and forest including tribal conservation areas. According to the EIA, 15.02% of forest land has to be diverted for the project.
The project could impact one of the most ecologically significant regions of the country, and demands careful scrutiny.
And that is why even as celebrate the reintroduction of cheetahs, we must pay attention to what is happening in Nicobar -- for at the core of it lies the question of our commitment to protecting life and habitats around us.
The views expressed are personal