Cheetah Translocation Project facing serious challenges
Subhasish Mitra (Wide Angle)
The ambitious Cheetah Translocation Project is in the throes a new set of challenges as five cheetahs have died, bringing the number of the big cats left in the project to 15 out of the initial 20 adult cheetahs brought from Namibia and South Africa.
Male cheetah Suraj, translocated from South Africa, died at the Kuno National Park (KNP) in Sheopur, while another translocated male cheetah Tejas died recently.
Some experts on the cheetah project said that certain recent deaths could possibly be due to septicemia, an infection caused by radio collars though that is highly unusual and collars have been used in wildlife conservation in India for over two decades.
Other experts say only the post-mortem report will determine the exact cause.
Rajesh Gopal, the head of the cheetah project steering committee, said it is possible that humid weather can lead to infection from radio collar use. Collars are being used in wildlife conservation for around 25 years in India.
South African cheetah meta-population expert Vincent van der Merwe said extreme wet conditions are causing the radio collars to create infection and possibly that was the reason behind the cheetahs' death.
The environment ministry, on its part, said the cheetah project is still in progress and it would be "premature to judge its success or failure within a year".
It said valuable insights have been gained in cheetah management, monitoring, and protection over the past 10 months. The ministry said it was optimistic about the project's long-term success and urged against speculating at this stage.
Under the Project Cheetah, a total of 20 radio collared cheetahs were imported from Namibia and South Africa to Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh.
After a mandatory quarantine period, the cheetahs were moved to larger acclimatisation enclosures. Currently, 11 cheetahs are in free-ranging conditions, while five, including a cub born in India, are within a quarantine enclosure. Each free-ranging cheetah is closely monitored by a dedicated team.
The ministry said that the reintroduction of cheetahs is a significant project that is expected to face challenges. It cited global experience, particularly from South Africa, where initial reintroductions resulted in over 50 per cent mortality among introduced cheetahs.
As part of new steps being considered to support the project, additional forest areas will be brought under the administrative control of Kuno National Park for the landscape-level management.
Additional frontline staff will be deployed, and a Cheetah Protection Force will be established. A second home for cheetahs is envisioned in Gandhi Sagar Wildlife Sanctuary, Madhya Pradesh.