The Ministry of Environment and Forests has given the go-ahead for drafting a detailed road map for the Cheetah Reintroduction Project. The project was proposed by the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) at a meeting in Gajner, in Rajasthan last month.

Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh conveyed his Ministry’s decision in a letter to WTI Chairman M.K. Ranjitsinh, who heads the project.

The Minister approved the recommendation for a detailed survey of potential reintroduction sites in four States short-listed during the Gajner meeting. The survey will ascertain which of the sites are most suitable for this endeavour as well as what needs to be done in each of them in preparation for the return of the cheetah.

The survey, that will form the basis for the road map, will be carried out by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehra Dun, in collaboration with the WTI, the Bombay Natural History Society and the State governments concerned.

“We have been given a mandate to prepare this road map in four months. The return of the cheetah will make India the only country in the world to host six of the world’s eight large cats and the only one to have all the large cats of Asia. The effort would also ensure conservation action in cheetah habitats in India, which so far, has been severely lacking,” said Dr. Ranjitsinh.

During the meeting, scientist Yadvendradev Jhala asserted that the habitats were still available for reintroducing the cheetah — the only large mammal species believed to have gone extinct from the Indian peninsula in modern history.

The experts favoured cheetah from Africa for the proposed reintroduction, against the Iranian cheetah. International experts, including founder and executive director of the Cheetah Conservation Fund Laurie Marker, argued that the Iranian cheetah population was abysmally low to spare individuals for reintroduction here.

Conservation geneticist Stephen J. O’Brien said there was no significant genetic difference between the African and Iranian cheetahs.

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