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Project Cheetah Hailed A Success In India

The lone surviving and yet to be named cub of Cheetah Jwala is a jewel in the crown of Project Cheetah launched by Government of India one year ago. The fact that it has survived for six months is in fact, a major indicator of the Project’s success. It is expected to start hunting on its own in next year or so. That’s why the government has decided to expand the project by introducing Cheetahs in two more sanctuaries in next few months. 

Besides, a Breeding Centre, Research Centre, Interpretation Centre, Cheetah Management Training Centre and Cheetah Safari are also being planned at Kuno in next two years. At least nine forest personnels have been deployed per Cheetah for tracking their movement and behaviour, using drones, elephants and of course radio collars.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has released two Cheetah imported from Namibia in Madhya Pradesh’s Kuno National Park (KNP) on September 17, 2022. Although six of the imported 20 Cheetahs and three out of the four cubs born to Jwala, have died under different circumstances during past one year, the government considers the project a success. In reintroduction of Cheetahs, a 50 per cent survival in first year is considered an achievement but in India the survival rate is 70 per cent. 

FOUR OF SIX GOALS ACHIEVED

South African and Namibian Cheetah have acclimatised themselves to KNP and have been hunting in the wild. They have also reproduced successfully. Cheetah Jwala mated with Gaurav and gave birth to four cubs. Its another matter that three cubs couldn’t survive the extreme heatwave – the temperature in KMP was hovering between 45 and 47 degrees Celsius at the time. The project is also contributing revenue to the local communities directly through their engagement as cheetah trackers and indirectly by way of appreciation of land value in the surrounding areas of Kuno.  

Member Secretary of National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) Mr SP Yadav told Indian Masterminds that out of the six short-term goals set for the project, four have already been met. Buoyed by the success, Government is planning to introduce another batch of Cheetahs in next three months. 

The zoo is also home to various fierce cats including Cheetah

TWO NEW SANCTUARIES PLANNED 

It is also preparing two more habitats for them in Madhya Pradesh– Gandhi Sagar and Nauradehi. While Nauradehi is MP’s largest wildlife sanctuary covering 1197 Sq Kms in four districts Sagar, Damoh, Narsinghpur, and Raisen, Gandhi Sagar wildlife sanctuary is spread across 368.62 Sq Kms in two Western districts Mandsaur and Neemach, adjoining Rajasthan. 

No, Cheetahs won’t be shifted to Gadhi Sangar from KMP. The next set of feline animals to be imported from South Africa would be relocated in Gandhi Sagar, says Mr Yadav. The carrying capacity of Kuno is about 20 Cheetahs; Kuno at present has 15 Cheetahs including the 6-month-old cub. “We need multiple sites in the country as per the Cheetah Action Plan to establish viable meta population. Gandhi Sagar will be the next Cheetah habitat”, he said. Boma and quarantine areas are being built there for Cheetahs.

The challenging inter-continental, wild to wild, Cheetah translocation by air, from Namibia and South Africa to India is first ever such effort undertaken in the world to rectify the ecologically wrong done in the past. Normally intercontinental long distance cheetah translocations have inherent risk of mortalities, however, 8 Cheetahs from Namibia and 12 Cheetahs from South Africa were successfully translocated to the KMP.

Of the six Cheetah who couldn’t survive, one Namibian female died of kidney ailment; a South African female died in a courtship conflict; while three male South African cheetahs and a female Namibian cheetah died of dermatitis/skin infection. Mr Yadav categorically ruled out any death due to radio collar-induced infections. 

ADAPTING WELL

Most of the Cheetahs are adapting well to the Indian conditions and showing normal qualities like hunting, exploring the landscape, protecting their kill, avoiding/chasing other carnivores like leopards & hyena, establishing own territory, internecine fights, courtship and mating & no negative interactions with human beings.

“It’s a long-term project.  12-14 cheetahs are planned to be brought from South Africa/Namibia/ other African Countries, annually for the next 5 years till their population stabilises”, he added. The two Namibian female cheetah, with wild origin but reared in captivity, are showing signs of wild behaviour due to re-wilding efforts. After some more evaluation and monitoring they may be released in the wild. 

JUST LIKE MASAI MARA

Cheetah Steering Committee Chairman Dr Rajesh Gopal, who inspected the Gandhi Sagar Sanctuary on September 16 told Indian Masterminds, “The area is promising. It looks like Kenya’s Masai Mara with open glades, a rocky area, shallow soil. There is just one village inside the sanctuary with very few villagers who too are willing to be relocated. We only need to ensure adequate prey base in the sanctuary before introduction of Cheetahs.” 

There should be 35-40 angulates (prey varieties) per square km area for a Cheetah’s introduction in a sanctuary. Their per annum growth should be more than what can be consumed by the big cats, including leopards present in the area. 

The steering committee has suggested that cheetahs with thinner coats be introduced in India as the previous batch had “thicker winter coats” that did not suit humid weather conditions in the Indian monsoon. “We are also working on introducing state-of-the-art lightweight radio collars,” Dr Gopal said.

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