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Experts Anxious Till Cheetahs Adapt Kuno National Park, Tourism Not Priority

  International cheetah experts are closely monitoring the movements of 8 spotted cats released on September 17 in Kuno National Park of central India state of Madhya Pradesh. Cheetahs are quarantined for a month and only trained Namibian handlers are allowed to “take care” of the  fastest land animal housed in different small enclosures. The animals are watched from machaans –  watch tower situated about “100 meters away”. Amidst continuing negative media reports on the success of the translocation project, the biggest concern of the Union ministry of forest, environment and climate change (MoEFC&C)   is adaptation  of new environs. “Let's see how soon the cheetahs adapt Kuno”.   Indian Officials Optimistic   Cheetahs are housed in smaller enclosures, the one shown on televisions sets when PM Narendra Modi released them on his birthday on September 17. After one month, they are likely to be released in a bigger enclosure. In another one month or so, they will be released in a

Cheetah in Kuno National Park, Real Challenge Begins Now


Midst controversies ,concerns and cacophony of TV coverage, cheetahs reached Kuno national park. This fastest animal will remain confined within  the four walls of a small 5 square km enclosure before they are released in another – a bigger one about 10 sq kms. After spending almost two months in these enclosures, the animals are likely to be released in open - about 748 square km area Kuno National Park. Is there enough open grassland for cheetah to run , chase and kill, especially a prey like spotted deer. Cheetah ,in fact, is expected to “ adapt”  the new conditions faster than its running speed  and  the park management  has a challenge to “ minimize the damage.” Prime minister Narendra Modi  while releasing the animal said, “ with cheetahs,  the grassland  ecosystem will be restored and biodiversity will increase”.

  Cheetah's Chase & Space Crunch 

Kuno national park

Conservationists in India still believe that there is a space crunch for cheetahs in Kuno as compared to 15000 sq km and 20,000 sq kms and even bigger parks of Africa. "It is well established that even in the best of habitats (for example, the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem straddling Kenya and Tanzania), cheetahs exist in very low densities of around 1 per 100 sq km. Average female home ranges have been estimated to be about 750 sq km”, writes Ravi Chellam,   senior scientist and  CEO, Metastring Foundation & Coordinator, Biodiversity Collaborative. Given the size of Kuno,  barely 10 cheetahs can be accommodated in Kuno.  Many scientists in the prestigious Wildlife Institute of India (WII) believe that “there  is hardly any space for  the cheetah to  go full throttle in Kuno . At a stretch, the animal can run hardly 2 kms”. A senior official at the Union ministry of environment, forest and climate change (MoEFC&C)  said, “ Kuno is a shrubland and   the cheetah will have to learn fast the art of negotiating the   hurdles  in the forms of scrubs in  the stony  ground of  the jungle while chasing a prey.”  

Also read7000 Cheetahs  , 700 Lions: A Tale Of Misplaced  Priority

Though the big cats are fast learners, let’s see  how fast this fastest land animal   learns the art”, they quipped. African experts also believe that " the cheetah  adapts fast". A senior official said, “ we are apprehensive that Ziziphus nummularia  growth may  occur inside the cheetah enclosures. It is a shrub that may grow  up to 6 metres or more to form a thicket”.  many species were removd earlier  but  they re-grow." Scientists said that grasslands in Madhya Pradesh are termed as “cultural grasslands created after evacuating the villages”. Noted environmentalist Valmik Thapar in a TV interview said, “In Kuno, unless you convert woodland to grassland, it's a problem... quickly turning corners on stony ground, full of obstacles, it's a huge challenge (for the cheetahs)." "Can the government convert woodland to grassland? Does the law allow this," he asked.

 Big Worries For The Big Cat

Namibian Cheetah  Arrives At Kuno

Once out from the enclosures in open , cheetah  is going to be confronted with a sizeable population of leopards- remember how they were chased out from cheetah enclosures before the animal was translocated to Kuno-  hyenas , jackals- a large number in Kuno- and also wolves , plenty in number.  A  senior officer said, “In African jungles cheetahs are not caught by larger predators like lions, leopards because it ( cheetah) runs faster  in open spaces and this might  not be possible in Kuno ''. Patches of grasslands  which are available in Kuno have a different problem. These grasslands are on slopes, hillocks and ridges  where grass species  like Apluda  and Themeda, comsidered  unfriendly for cheetah  grow.   They grow as high as 6 feet and are not fit for  a cheetah  chasing a a prey.  The spotted cat need grasses like Hetropogan  but they are not available in larger areas. 

Also readMonsoon Magic of Kanha National Park Meadows 

There is another concern-the food or the prey base. “Smaller animals like the blackbuck and chinkaras  or the  India gazelles are   considered as the natural prey  for cheetahs. “ But they are hard to find in Kuno . Like cheetahs, both live in the same habitat- the open grasslands. Because of their non -availability, cheetals or the spotted deer have been translocated”, said another official adding, “The cheetahs may hide inside the forest where it would be difficult for the cheetah to kill them.”  African experts have said that the cheetahs are “ safer” in  the fenced parks  to prevent them from wandering outside. None of the jungles in India are fenced. “Cheetahs are known for walking long. Though all of them are fitted with satellite radio collars and would be monitored round the clock, they are still expected to reach the edge of the park.

Also readJungle Book Comes Alive in Pench Tiger Reserve

 A state of the art monitoring system  has been  installed  in Kuno to follow the animals and a team of cheetah mitras ( friends of cheetahs mainly villagers ) has been raised to protect them,  safety of cheetah is still a cause of the concern. “The scientific foundation of the Action Plan to introduce African cheetahs in India is flawed. It also disregards our national conservation priorities and the rule of law as well as making exaggerated and unfeasible conservation claims. It will distract much-needed attention and resources from priority conservation issues and unfortunately end up as a very costly mistake”, CEO, Metastring Foundation & Coordinator, Biodiversity Collaborative.

Cover Pic from MoEFC&C tweet


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