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Teeming With Tigers, India Needs To Manage Their Population

India is facing a serious 'problem of plenty'. Rising tiger population in many parts of the country is creating conflict zones. And the tiger- human clashes are going up, alarmingly in many landscapes. The Union ministry of environment, forest and climate change (MoEFCC) needs to take initiatives to control the situation. Fifty years after the project tiger as India moves on from dwindling tiger population to surplus numbers of the big cats,  the nation needs an active tiger population management plan. As MoEFC&C yet to  become proactive, a team of  tiger catchers continue to carry out search operations for the past over five months to  capture a tigress with four cubs. Thge team members are  scanning Tadoba Andhari Tiger Landscape in Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, grappling with the issue of over population of 200 tigers. As many as 53 people lost their lives in Chandrapur in 2022 in tiger attacks while 14 tigers have also died from January 2022 to January this year. This

Ultimate Test When Cheetahs Face Leopards in Kuno National Park

Cheetahs

 Cheetahs in Kuno National Park are going to be released in the 748 sq km open forest of the park sometime early in the new year. To begin with  the two males- Fredie and Elton -may be released in the first phase followed by others .And as this date approaches, members of the team of international experts monitoring these cheetahs are apprehensive spending anxious moments. So far, Kuno cheetahs immune from leopards. For the first time, these imported spotted cats will have a faceoff with the local leopards, the top predator of Kuno and the carnivores like hyenas .You may be knowing that cheetahs brought from Namibia on September 17   have been living in protective 5 sq km enclosures in Kuno with plenty of prey-  like spotted deer - and  trained people to take care of their well being- mainly health -and the  issues related with adaptation.

Cheetah is Smaller Than Leopard 

leopard and cheetah

In Africa, the home to most of the cheetahs in the world, leopards are known to attack the fastest land animal. With 3,421 leopards in Madhya Pradesh, it is also known as the leopard state. There are 70 to 80 leopards in Kuno National Park. Smaller than tiger, a leopard weighs about 50 and 60 kg. An adult cheetah is  even smaller and weighs 40 to 50 kg.  Once out from the  5 sq km enclosures in the open forest, cheetahs  are  going to be confronted with  this bigger cat - remember how leopards were chased out from the enclosures before cheetah translocation in Kuno. Besides, there is also a sizeable presence of hyenas and  jackals-  both in large number in Kuno- and also wolves, again plenty in number. All the carnivores would have their first interface with the new comer of Kuno. A senior officer said, “In African jungles cheetahs are not caught by larger predators like lions, and leopards because it ( cheetah) runs faster  in the vast  forest area and this might  not be possible in Kuno.” Why? Because, they claimed, the size of Kuno is much –much smaller than the African parks. “ This would be one of the biggest  adaptation aspects and it would be interesting to watch how the two spotted cats  survive each other’s presence”, a senior MoEFC&C  (Union ministry of environment, forest and climate change)  claimed.  

Also readPrep Before  Cheetahs Become Free Ranging In Kuno National Park 

Even cheetah experts  have expressed apprehensions  before the translocation. “The high density of leopards is a matter of concern for cheetahs in Kuno . But, two spotted animals have a history of co-existence in South Africa, Namibia and India since centuries,”   animal conservationist Vincent van der Merwe, who manages the cheetah metapopulation in South Africa, has been quoted in Indian media. “Leopards account for about 9 per cent of cheetah mortality in South Africa,” he was quoted by the news agency PTI. With reference to Kuno, its area versus number of leopards, this would be a large number said an official of MOEFC&C. Cheetah experts said an adult cheetah can eat as much as 6 to 8 kg meat at one sitting if not chased away. The cheetah are also not known for returning to eat its leftover kill like a leopard or tiger. Suppose a cheetah kills a spotted deer weighing around 30 kg, it will automatically leave behind around 22 kg meat of the kill for leopards. The leftover will also attract hyenas  and jackals among others. Leopard is also known to hide it's kill and even climb a tree along with an animal carcass. All these may sound imaginary fears but the Kuno team monitoring cheetahs is  indeed preparing to handle these scenarios.

Survival Of The Fittest 

Leopard

The dedicated team comprising experts from the Cheetah Conservation Foundation (CCF), the officials from the MoEFC&C and those from the forest department of Madhya Pradesh has been monitoring the most favoured animals of India at the moment- the cheetahs. In fact, the Indian officials are being trained by those from the CCF to handle cheetahs. Indian officials are preparing for the moments when cheetahs roam around Kuno and may get involved in flight with others and the  smaller  cat is injured. " Rememeber, the law of the survival of the fittest  Cheetahs  prevails in the jungles", they reminded. Chetahs are also expected to touch boundaries of Kuno soon after their rerelease from the 5 sq km bomas or enclosures to the open forest . They may also cross Kuno's limits reaching villages requiring rescue operations." The training of India Indian officials involves all these aspects”, said MOEFC&C sources. “The ongoing training is also part of familiarization with Freddie, Elton and Oban- the three males in Kuno  and  Siyaya, Aasha, Tbilisi, Sasha and Savannah- all females, they said.  

Also readTiger Poaching On The Rise As The Cat Becomes Commodity   

Cheetah, like other cats, will not allow humans (the  members of the team) to  reach near them and it would be difficult to handle them during the moments of crisis, if the team members  and cheetahs are not familiar with each other. (Even it is difficult to  tranquilize a cheetah as it runs away from unknown person holding the tranquilizing gun. But a familiar one – both smell and appearance-  may succeed in  tranquilizing the cat.  " This exercise  to bring the men and animal close to each other may facilitate the work, if such situation arises, and which is expected very much ", sources claimed. All the cheetahs released in Kuno are fitted with radio collars and are being and will continue to be  monitored round the clock. African experts have said fenced parks are safe for cheetahs but Kuno ,like other Indian jungles, is an unfenced  national park. Besides, there is large number of villages with give human populations, feral dogs and cattle present on the edges of the park.

By Deshdeep Saxena

Representative Images:  Sourced from WWF, Safaripartner

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