Introducing wild cheetahs to Indian reservations brings risks and opportunities, says South African expert


The planned introduction of South African and Namibian cheetahs to Indian wildlife sanctuaries, believed to be the world’s first project of its kind to move a large carnivore from one continent to another and release it into the wild, poses both unique research challenges and opportunities, according to a leading South African expert.

Professor Adrian Tordiffe of the University of Pretoria has been closely involved in the ambitious plan to send 12 cheetahs from South Africa, along with an unknown number from neighboring Namibia to India to mark the 75th anniversary of the independence on August 15.

The group of cheetahs will be introduced to Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.

The professor, who has studied cheetahs extensively for almost two decades, said that once South African President Cyril Ramaphosa signs a memorandum of understanding, we will be ready to transfer the cheetahs within days.

“Obtaining the relevant CITES documentation will only take one more day,” he said. Tordiffe will travel to India with the cheetahs to ensure translocation-induced stress is minimized.

Tordiffe highlighted the free roaming of livestock as the biggest challenge to the introduction of endangered cats in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.

”It’s supposed to be a protected park, but the cattle go there. The walls that were supposed to keep cattle out are broken. The real problem is that there are no real keystone species to drive the conservation of these areas,’ he said. Last month, India and Namibia signed a pact for the reintroduction of cheetahs, declared extinct in the country in 1952.

According to officials, the first batch comprising four males and as many female cheetahs will arrive from Namibia by August 15.

Tordiffe said South Africa plans to supply more cheetahs to India until the population is viable.

“I estimate that at least 50 or 60 cheetahs will go to India in the next five or six years. I also anticipate that there will be a lot of collaboration on scientific research between us and our Indian counterparts to learn as much as we do. can from this introduction,” he said.

“There have been cases where other species have been introduced to other countries, such as the European bison introduced to the UK, but this is the first large carnivore that is introduced from continent to continent. ‘other,” Tordiffe said.

The majority of the world’s 7,000 cheetahs live in South Africa, Namibia and Botswana. Namibia has the largest cheetah population in the world.

The cheetah is the only large carnivore that has been completely wiped out from India, mainly due to overhunting and habitat loss.

The last spotted cat died in 1948 in the Sal forests of Koriya district in Chhattisgarh.

Tordiffe said the Indian cheetah became extinct in the 1950s as the species was hunted due to the bounty offered by former British rulers, who viewed them as vermin.

The world’s fastest land animal will find a new home in Kuno-Palpur National Park (KNP) in Sheopur district of Madhya Pradesh.

The park, originally developed to be the second home of Asiatic lions in India besides Gir, was selected as a habitat for the African cheetah by a panel of experts commissioned by the Supreme Court in January 2021.

“I think local conservation officers really have no incentive to try to keep livestock or people out of these areas,” he said.

Tordiffe said there is better management of tiger reserves in India.

“If these areas (proposed for cheetahs) are compared to the tiger reserves in India, there is a multitude of animals there besides the tigers. The main reason why you have such diversity in these reserves is because livestock are kept away and people stay off the reserves as well, so you have low human impact in those areas,” he said.

Tordiffe, however, remained optimistic about the success of the project.

“I’ve seen the level of enthusiasm from the rangers and conservation officers in Kuno. They’re very excited and they also realize what responsibilities they have to take care of these animals when they get there. I think that they also realize the impact this could have on tourism,” he said.

Tordiffe explained that there were two main reasons for the project.

“One is what the cheetah can do for India in these reserves in the drier parts of the country and how it can help conserve other endangered species and how it can protect the bush and savannah in this region.

“The second reason is what the introduction can do for the overall conservation of cheetahs around the world, not just as a subspecies in India. It is worth taking a calculated risk here to see how well the project can benefit the cheetah population as a whole,” he said.

Tordiffe said concerns that the introduction of the cheetah to India would bring new diseases to the country or that they would die from diseases contracted in India had already been resolved.

“I was brought in to do a disease risk assessment, which found the risk is so low it’s negligible. We’ve also mitigated the risk by vaccinating the cheetahs, quarantining them and treating them. against internal and external parasites as standard veterinary procedures,” he said.

Meanwhile, state-owned Indian Oil will contribute Rs 50 crore over four years to the government’s cheetah introduction project, according to a pact signed with the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) on August 2.

The “India African Cheetah Introduction Project” was conceived in 2009, but it failed to take off for more than a decade.

The plan to introduce the cheetah by November last year in Madhya Pradesh’s Kuno, which stretches 750 kilometers in the Chambal region, has suffered a setback due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kuno National Park has a good prey base for cheetahs, including four-horned antelope, chinkara, nilgai, wild pig, spotted deer and sambar, according to wildlife officials.

Experts from the first Indian Wildlife Institute based in Dehradun visited sites in Madhya Pradesh in 2020 to research the best habitat for the introduction of the African cheetah. The visit came after the Supreme Court in January of the same year approved the plan to introduce cheetahs into suitable habitat on a trial basis.

The cheetah is listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, with a declining population of less than 7,000 individuals, mostly in African savannas.

(This story has not been edited by the Devdiscourse team and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)


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