India joins the race to save Cheetahs

A Cheetah with her cub.

A Cheetah with her cub.  

India has joined the race to save cheetahs, the animal species it lost sometime in 1947, from extinction. Despite the setbacks on the tiger front in the recent years, the country is considering the re-introduction of cheetahs, the only animal it lost in the past 1000 years of conservation history, into its wild. A time frame of six months has been kept for selecting a terrain for the animal which has an amazing reach after being the world’s fastest animal.

Against a population of one lakh at the turn of the previous century, the number of cheetahs at present has come down to less than 10,000. Along with India 15 other countries witnessed the extinction of the animal in the past 60 years. Now Namibia hosts the largest population of cheetahs in the world while Asiatic cheetahs—more akin to the animal India had—survive only in Iran. There number is said to be less than 100.

A consultative meeting held in Rajasthan’s Gajner in Bikaner earlier this month decided to entrust the job of carrying out a reconnaissance of the locations to experts from Wildlife Institute of India, Wildlife Trust of India –the NGO which initiated the process – and the State Governments of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh.

The consultation, attended by experts such as Stephen J. O’Brien of the Laboratory of Genomic Diversity, Laurie Marker of Cheetah Conservation Fund and M.K. Ranjitsinh, chairman Wildlife Trust of India and Divyabhanusinh Chavda, president WWF-India, in principle accepted the idea of re-introduction of the cheetah though the authorities remained cautious in their commitment.

“Many people are thrilled about the prospect. Many are critical saying that there is no habitat available and that when India cannot protect its national animal—the tiger—why should it embark on this venture,” wondered Jairam Ramesh, Minister of State for Environment and Forests, who could not make it to the venue, in a message. “Personally I feel that we would be reclaiming a part of our wonderful and varied ecological history if the cheetah was to be reintroduced in the wild…”he said.

Though initially the Indian side was keen on getting cheetahs from Iran, the experts advised the gathering against it. Both Dr. O ‘Brien and Dr.Marker were of the view that sourcing cheetahs from Namibia, instead of trying to get specimen from the limited population Iran, would be advisable. There is no significant difference between African and Asiatic cheetahs as both got separated only some 5,000 years back, they asserted.

Mr.Ramesh, during a visit to Sariska tiger reserve in Rajasthan a few days back had revealed that Iran has been asking a lion in exchange for the cheetah and the deal was not likely to materialize as Gujarat would be unwilling to part with its lions. Experts are also of the view that the Iran population should be left untouched as any experiment in re-introduction in India would require at least 10 cheetahs. Moreover the nature and spread of the jungles in Namibia are said to be similar to those India with villages interspersed in between.

Among the locations short listed as the probable habitat for cheetahs in India include Rajasthan’s Shahgarh Bulge, north west of Jaisalmer along the India-Pakistan border, Chandan, located between Pokhran and Jaisalmer and Baran Bhakar, near Jodhpur. In Gujarat the probable locations are Banni, a 2000 sq km stretch near the Rann of Kutch and Narain Sarovar sanctuary.

Places identified in Madhya Pradesh are Sanjay Dubri sanctuary, adjoining Chattisgarh, Naura Dehi and Palpur Kuno, recommended also for re-introduction of lions. The surprise entrants in the race are Sholapur-Kolapur in Maharashtra and grasslands in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka’s Bijapur. There are suggestions on starting a cheetah breeding centre at Gajner, which has a good ungulate presence or near Jodhpur.

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Printable version | Mar 29, 2020 3:25:05 PM |

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