The move will help restore grasslands and protect many endangered animals

Cheetah – the only large wild mammalian species that India has lost – will now be reintroduced in the country's three identified grasslands. The move will help in restoration of grasslands and protecting many other endangered animals there. Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus venaticus) was last spotted [in India] in Chhattisgarh in 1967.

Cheetah will be obtained from Middle East, where North African Cheetah are bred, Iran, Namibia and South Africa. Initially, 18 cheetah will be brought to three sites proposed in the report, “Assessing the Potential for Reintroducing the Cheetah in India”, brought out by the Wildlife Trust of India and the Wildlife Institute of India.

The report, presented to the Ministry of Environment and Forests here on Wednesday, has identified Kuno-Palpur and Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuaries in Madhya Pradesh and Shahgarh Landscape in Jaisalmer in Rajasthan. All the three sites require an initial investment of Rs 100 crores each before the animals are imported in the next two to three years.

Accepting the report, Jairam ramesh, Minister of State for Environment and Forests said: “It is important to bring cheetah back to our country. This is perhaps the only mammal whose name has been derived from Sanskrit language. It comes from the word chitraku which means spots. The way tiger restores forest ecosystem, snow leopard restores mountain ecosystem, Gangetic dolphin restores waters in the rivers, the cheetah will restore grasslands of the country.”

Threatened species

Among the threatened species which are on the brink of extinction are carcal (Caracal caracal), the India wolf Canis lupus pallipes) and the three endangered species of the bustard family – the Houbara (Chlamydotis undulate macqueenii), the lesser florican (Sypheotides indica) and the most endangered of them all – the great Indian bustard (Ardeotis nigriceps).

Like tiger and elephant, the cheetah will also need a distinctive status, Mr. Ramesh said, adding that he would now take up the matter with State governments to bring them on board before actually starting the project which will be totally funded by the Centre. This would involve relocation of some families living in the core areas. He said initial negotiations for reintroduction of cheetah had started with Africa, Iran and the Middle East.

He said that Kuno-Palpur [in the Sheopur district of north western Madhya Pradesh] could become the only place in the world where tiger, lion and cheetah could survive together. The government had proposed to relocate the Gir Lion from Gujarat to this place, but the project had to be shelved following opposition by the Gujarat government. This wildlife sanctuary was home to tigers until some years ago. Among the large carnivores, cheetah are likely to present the lowest level of conflict with human interests, as they are not a threat to human life and are most unlikely to predate large livestock.

The cheetah reintroduction would greatly enhance tourism prospects, especially at the sites, the cascading effects of which would benefit the local communities. Cheetah as a flagship would evoke a greater focus on the predicament of the much abused dry-land ecosystem and the need to manage them, which would benefit pastoralism in India where the largest livestock population in the world resides, report said.