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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

South African Cheetahs to Arrive Kuno National Park in October

 

Cheetah

After the release of 8 cheetahs from Namibia on September 17 in Kuno National Park (KNP) of Madhya Pradesh, South Africa will send an additional 12 cheetahs to India in October. More and more cheetahs will continue to be airlifted to India in the coming years till the “genetically viable population” of the spotted cat is not established.

 Cheetah Top Up To Continue To Create Genetically Viable Population 

South African officials in Kuno

Though an MoU is yet to be signed with South Africa, it is likely to be done soon. Recently a team of South African officials visited Kuno to take   first hand information.   Among others, the team comprised scientific co-ordinator, South African National Biodiversity Institute, Michele Pfab, deputy director CITES Policy Development & Implementation at department of Environmental Affairs, Mpho Tjiane , Policy Analyst at the department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment, Dzunisani Makhubele. The team is likely to submit its report soon and it would be followed by translocation  cheetah to India. 

Also readNamibian Cheetahs To Fly To Kuno National Park On September 17

Vincent van der Merwe, coordinator of the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Cheetah Metapopulation projecthas been quoted in international media , “For a genetically viable population in India in the long-term you need at least 500 individuals, so every year we will send eight to 12 animals, to top them up, to increase numbers, to bring in new genetics until they have a viable population." In the same report the news agency AP reported “South Africa is flying cheetahs to India and Mozambique as part of ambitious efforts to reintroduce the distinctively spotted cats in regions where their population has dwindled”. There are about 7000 African cheetahs left in the wild while the number of Asian cheetahs, only in Iran, is very small.

Kuno's Tribal Unhappy  

South African officials in Kuno

Madhya Pradesh forest department was nurturing KNP   for Asiatic lions. The preparation was going on for almost 2 decades and in between the park was upgraded from a sanctuary to a national park by adding  more forest land to its buffer.  But the politics of conservation did not allow  KNP to become the second home of  endangered lions  found only in Gir lion landscape of Saurashtra region of Gujarat. A supreme court order in 2013 lion  also could not  facilitate the arrival of  just one pair of Asiatic lion from Gir.The  Action Plan for Introduction of Cheetah  in India said, “ KNP has been chosen as the first site for the cheetah introduction since it is ready with the required level of protection, prey, and habitat to house the cheetahs.” 

Also readJungle Book Comes Alive in Pench Tiger Reserve

The park, located in  the central India state of Madhya Pradesh bordering Rajasthan, was estimated to have a current capacity to sustain 21 cheetahs. “ Once a cheetah population establishes itself within KNP, dispersers would colonize the landscape and potentially hold 36 individuals”, the action plan  claims. Spread over 748 sq. km in area,  Kuno is devoid of human settlements and forms part of Sheopur-Shivpuri deciduous open forest landscape . Large number of tribals sacrificed their ancestral land and moved out from the park to  give way to lion and not cheetah  which is why Kuno is probably the only wildlife site in the country where there has been a complete relocation of villages from inside the park. Many of them lament that their sacrifice has gone wasted. 

 Threat of Preator Become Prey Looms Large 

Cheetah from South Africa

The other sites recommended for holding and conservation breeding of cheetah in India, in controlled wild conditions are  Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary  and Gandhi Sagar Wildlife Sanctuary  both in Madhya Pradesh ,Shahgarh bulge in Jaisalmer, Mukundara Tiger Reserve as fenced enclosure of 80 sq.km, and Rajasthan. The news agency AP retorted that “ Indian officials say the move will aid global cheetah conservation efforts since their range in Africa is limited. The plan is for the cats to be kept in large enclosures in central Indian forests, protected from other predators like leopards or bears, to give them time to get used to their new home. The enclosures have prey — like deer and antelope — which scientists hope the cheetahs will hunt. After a few months of close monitoring, the cheetahs will be radio-collared and released”. 

Also readMarathon Tiger Rescue Operation Near Pench National Park 

Veteran conservationist Valmik Thapar who is working on his book on Cheetah  has been quoted in media saying, “ the cheetah project waste of taxpayers' money”.  He said, “ The African cheetah can never be introduced into the wilds of India. We don’t have any habitat to ensure a natural reintroduction. I think you can reintroduce cheetahs in a fenced enclosure of 100-200 sq km with an expenditure of millions of dollars, because the fence has to be four metres high. You can make sure that they are hand-fed or baited. And you can have people coming in to watch the animals, as in a drive-in enclosure. But reintroducing it in the wild is impossible.” Researchers like  Ravi Chellam have termed it ,” a vanity project”. 

Representational images: First Image from cheetah.org. Image 2 and 3  about visit of S African authorities to Kuno courtsey district administration, last image courtsey Adrian Tordiffe, Pretoria University 

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