Leopards, signatures stall African cheetahs’ India journey

Around 35 cheetahs would be needed over time to establish a sustainable population in India

August 16, 2022 08:21 pm | Updated 08:21 pm IST - NEW DELHI

African cheetahs at the Mysuru zoo. Image for representation. File

African cheetahs at the Mysuru zoo. Image for representation. File | Photo Credit: The Hindu

India’s ambitious project to translocate African cheetahs has missed an unofficial deadline of August 15, though sources say the animals are likely to arrive within this year.

Though agreements have been signed with both South Africa and Namibia, administrative delays, as well as the presence of leopards in the cheetahs’ prospective destination — the Kuno Palpur forest reserve, Madhya Pradesh — are believed to be the barriers to the wild cat’s arrival.

India’s action plan, a long-term translocation project made public this February, on re-establishing the cheetah — extinct since 1952 in India — states that a cohort of around 10-12 young would be imported from Namibia or South Africa as a founder stock during the first year.

The animals’ lineage and genetic history would be examined to ensure that they are not from an excessively inbred stock and were in the ideal, reproductive age group so that they constituted a suitable founding population. Around 35 cheetahs would be needed over time to establish a sustainable population.

In February, India’s High Commissioner to Namibia, Prashant Agrawal, had stated that the cheetahs were expected to arrive in India by “mid-2022.”

The cheetahs from Namibia were currently in medical quarantine which would last for a month.

The Indian High Commission in Namibia tweeted pictures on Monday of cheetahs, set to be translocated to India, being medically examined.

In the case of South Africa, a memorandum of understanding signed with the government awaited a signature from President, Cyril Ramaphosa, said sources.

“To have the cheetahs in time for August 15, to commemorate 75 years of Independence, was the government’s hope but there are a lot of administrative challenges to such an exercise. The animals are expected to be here soon and it would still be among the fastest such translocations anywhere in the world,” a highly placed official told The Hindu.

Once the cheetahs arrive, they are expected to be housed in ‘predator-proof’ enclosures that are 6-7 square kilometres large. This is part of the plan to help the animals acclimatise to Indian conditions. However, the current enclosures in Kuno-Palpur have five leopards only two of whom have been translocated.

“Without the complete translocation of all leopards, the cheetah cannot be introduced as they will compete for the available prey base of sambar and chital,” another official told The Hindu.

Over time, says the action plan by the Centre, cheetah and leopard populations will be able to coexist. The initial batch of cheetahs and their potential offspring will be radio-collared and tracked for at least 10 years.

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