Supreme Court allows Centre to bring African cheetah to suitable wildlife habitat in India

A male African cheetah. File photo.  

The Supreme Court on Tuesday lifted its seven-year stay on a proposal to introduce African cheetahs from Namibia into the Indian habitat on an experimental basis. The plan was to bolster the nearly extinct Indian cheetah population.

In May 2012, the apex court had stalled the plan to initiate the foreign cheetahs into the Palpur Kino sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh fearing they may come into conflict with a parallel and a much-delayed project to reintroduce lions into the same sanctuary. The court was also worried whether the African cheetahs would find the sanctuary a favourable clime as far as abundance of prey is concerned.

However, on Tuesday, a Bench led by Chief Justice Sharad A. Bobde was nudged by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) to take the plunge and go ahead with its plans to bring the African cat to India.

But the Bench made sure that the right precautions are taken. It set up a three-member committee, comprising former director Wildlife Institute of India Ranjit Singh, DG of Wildlife Institute of India Dhananjay Mohan, and DIG, Wildlife, Ministry of Environment and Forests to ‘guide’ the NTCA.

Chief Justice Bobde, speaking for the Bench, directed the committee to file a progress report every four months.

The Supreme Court made it clear that a proper survey should be done to identify the best possible habitat for the cheetahs. Every effort should be taken to ensure that they adapt to the Indian conditions. The committee would help, advice and monitor the NTCA on these issues. The action of the introduction of the animal would be left to the NTCA’s discretion.

The hearing came on an application filed by the NTCA that the Indian cheetah is on the verge of extinction.

Several factors contributed to the Supreme Court ordering a stay on plans to introduce the Namibian cheetahs in 2012.

The court was at that point of time impressed by scientific studies which revealed that “the introduction of an alien species should be considered only if no native specie is suitable”.

The court had also been unhappy with the choice of the Kuno sanctuary. “It is not a natural habitat for African cheetah,” the apex court had observed in its May 2102 order.

The court had quoted experts to point out that “no species should be considered for introduction to a new habitat until the factors which limit its distribution and abundance in the native range have been studied and understood by competent ecologists”.

The court was also apprehensive of whether there would be man-animal conflict in Kuno on the cheetahs’ introduction.

But most importantly, the court was worried about the lions in 2012.

“Whether both lions and cheetahs can co-exist is a matter which requires detailed scientific study. Priority has to be given for preservation of our own species,” the Supreme Court had observed in its order seven years ago.

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Printable version | Feb 26, 2021 9:15:50 PM |

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