It’s not easy to bring an animal back from extinction: a cheetah expert

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Cheetahs may need lifelong supervision as they are the first on the ground.

Cheetahs may need lifelong supervision as they are the first on the ground.

According to Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) founder Dr. Laurie Marker.

Cheetahs brought from Africa are habituated to other predators such as leopards and lions. However, there may be losses due to species interaction in India, the American zoologist and researcher told PTI in an interview.

The CCF has closely assisted the Indian authorities in reintroducing cheetahs to the country. Since 2009, Marker has traveled to India several times to conduct site assessments and draft plans.

The cheetah expert said growing a population with natural mortality takes time.

“We are probably looking at success potentially in 20 years or more. The numbers will be increased from Namibia and South Africa which will keep the genetics clean and growing,” she said.

Asked what factors conservationists would look at to measure the success of the project, Marker said: “We’re looking at the adaptation of these animals, their hunting and their breeding, and hopefully there will be more breeding than mortality. There should be a viable population, which should be a larger number.”

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“We’ll also be looking at other habitats that the animals will be moved into – which should be a metapopulation – and then we’ll have to manage them. So it’s a very long and complex process,” she said.

Metapopulations are spatially separated populations of the same species that interact on some level.

Marker said she wanted people in India and around the world to realize that success (in such projects) is not “an easy and quick and time-consuming thing”.

She said cheetahs may need to be monitored for their entire lives, as tracking these animals as “first in the field” will be extremely important for research.

“We usually do this for the first generation of reintroduced animals to learn all about them. They’ve been radio-collared for a while, and if it’s allowed, we can re-collar them as well,” Marker said. .

A cheetah jumps inside a quarantine section before being transferred to India, at a reserve near Bella Bella, South Africa.

A cheetah jumps inside a quarantine section before being transferred to India, at a reserve near Bella Bella, South Africa. | Photo credit: AP

The animals were fitted with satellite collars to allow scientists to track their movements and monitor their health.

After their 30-day stay in the quarantine enclosure, the cheetahs would be released into a larger enclosure spanning more than six square kilometers to familiarize themselves with their new surroundings, where they would remain for a month or more before moving on. be released in the national park. .

Their movements would be monitored by search teams, and if a cheetah strayed too far, the animal would be brought back.

In the semi-arid parts of Namibia, cheetahs use their vast home range of around 1,500 km² while Kuno National Park (KNP) is only 748 km². The CCF and Indian authorities believe that home range size requirements for cheetahs in India are likely to be “lower due to more productive habitats”.

“We hope they don’t leave (the park). Ideally they will stay in the area. Their home ranges also depend on the amount of prey available to them and there is quite a lot of prey (in Kuno) and I’ hope the habitat will keep them there,” the cheetah expert said.

“It’s just a search, a question… It’s the first time and we can’t answer any of these things. All we can do is bring forward the best science we have to to be able to guess what these cheetahs are going to do and plan.” accordingly,” she added.

Regarding the likelihood and outcomes of cheetahs interacting with leopards, Marker said the two species coexist in Namibia and that “many of these cheetahs come from areas where lions live.”

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“There are tigers where they are at the moment and I don’t think that will really be a problem. However, there may be losses because living in the wild is not a fairy tale. Animals are used to other predators but we will have to be very realistic. Reintroductions are not easy. Bringing an animal back from extinction is not an easy process,” she said.

The KNP leopards – nine per 100 km² – are a major source of concern for the authorities. In Africa, leopards are known to attack adult cheetahs and spotted hyenas kill baby cheetahs.

The KNP has occasionally reported sightings of tigers scattering from Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan, which is just 80 km away.

She said the CCF teams will stay in India for as long as needed.

“We’ll be coming and going from here regularly to work closely with the teams on the ground here,” Marker said.

A CCF introduction team, who accompanied the cheetahs to India, will observe and provide assistance with veterinary care and handling throughout their transition from the fenced holding area to the national park.

The team will also support KNP staff and project field agents for an indefinite period.

The cheetah returned to India 70 years after the species was declared extinct in the country in 1952.

The large carnivore was completely wiped out from India due to its use for racing, sport hunting, overhunting and habitat loss.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi released the first batch of eight cheetahs – five females and three males – from Namibia into a quarantine enclosure at the KNP on his birthday on September 17.

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