Cheetah will face hostile environment in India, difficult to survive, says Ullas Karanth

Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh, he says, can hold a maximum of five cheetahs. The eight cheetahs from Nambia have been put in an area of five square kilometers, which is 160 times more than the natural density the animals need to survive  

October 03, 2022 11:22 am | Updated 11:23 am IST - MANGALURU

This handout photograph provided by the Press Information Bureau shows Prime Minister Narendra Modi watching a cheetah after it was released in an enclosure at Kuno National Park, in Madhya Pradesh, on September 17, 2022. Cheetahs were wiped out of India seven decades ago.

This handout photograph provided by the Press Information Bureau shows Prime Minister Narendra Modi watching a cheetah after it was released in an enclosure at Kuno National Park, in Madhya Pradesh, on September 17, 2022. Cheetahs were wiped out of India seven decades ago.

In the absence of large space devoid of humans and domestic dogs, it will be difficult to restore the extinct cheetahs in Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh using the eight cheetahs brought from Namibia, said Ullas Karanth, well-known tiger conservationist and Emeritus Director of Centre of Wildlife Studies.

On October 1, Mr. Karanth told The Hindu that the place earmarked for cheetah restoration in the national pwas originally meant for introduction of Gir lions. Unlike lions, tigers and other ambushed predators, cheetah chases its prey for long distance. The population density of cheetah is one cheetah for every 100 square kilometres. A space of about 15,000 square kilometres, without villages and also without domestic dogs, is necessary for the cheetah.

The Kuno National Park can hold a maximum of five cheetahs. The eight cheetahs from Nambia have been put in an area of five square kilometers, which is 160 times more than the natural density the animal needs to survive, the tiger conservationist said in Mangaluru.  

This project does not have that scope for providing large amount of open space required to have a meaningful population of 50 cheetahs. There is also a problem of domestic dogs and leopards, as they hunt the cheetah, which is not a dominant predator.

“Cheetah will not survive in the hostile environment after they are let out from the protected enclosure in three months,” he said. Several technical points have not been properly addressed, and science has taken a back seat in the cheetah restoration project, he said.

Describing the model of restoration of cheetah as a flawed one and largely driving by bureaucracy, Mr. Karanth said he and other experts had opposed it way back in 2009. Cheetah has very poor survival rate as only 5% of cheetahs reach breeding state on their own in the best of habitats.

“With first setbacks, these cheetahs would be pushed back into the fenced areas, and there will be a glorified form of safari that will attract tourists,” he said, and added this is not the vision of restoration that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is speaking about.

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