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A Cheetah By The Tail

 Cheetah  rescue operations after they stray  away from the  safe confines  of  congested  Kuno national park  have been reported   regularly in India  since  September 2022 when  the  maiden  batch of African cat landed in India  amidst much fanfare. But the latest visuals of yet another such action- this time in  a crowded Rajasthan village in Karauli district-put a question mark again  on the safety of the animal.   This cheetah had to be handled physically in order to prevent it from falling into a ravine as it cornered at the crest of the ravine after darting amid a gathering of an huge crowd nearby. Pawan's Life Was At Risk  Rajasthan forest  department officials alerted Kuno  National Park authorities  about the cheetah leading them to a rescue operation. Pawan, the male cheetah had wandered into Rajasthan through Chambal river bank and was spotted by the local villagers who in turn informed the  local authorities. “Male cheetah Pavan was rescued from Karauli district in Raj

How would Cheetahs in Kuno Meet and Mate ?

Female Cheetah and cubs

Female cheetah and cubs.Even this picture  released by India's Press Information Bureaue says something. Eversince cheetah introduction in Kuno national park, officials are  dreaming for this day. But a section of these officials  also believe that  these cats continue to live under stress  and there is an uncertainty over breeding. They need to meet and mate. But how ? Will they be able to do so  as they are going to follow many more months of  stress when they are released in open. Now that the Namibian cheetahs are ready  for release in the open forest from the closed confines of the  present 5 square km fenced housing, many in the cheetah monitoring team are concerned over the future of their reproduction- an important land mark in cheetah conservation and the ultimate aim of the introduction of the foreign species of the cat in India. From Namibia to India , to small  enclosure  in Kuno to the five sq km boma, they will  again be under stress  when released in the open jungle and  face -off with other powerful predators including leopards . Knowing  that cheetahs don't mate under stress, officials clearly do not expect this to happen anytime soon. Does it mean that the apprehensions of a large number of biologists and wildlife experts  from India and abroad  over the success of the programme are correct ? Well, it is still too early to conclude anything.

What the Action Plan Says  

cheetah

Officially, the carrying capacity of  Kuno is 27 cheetahs, a claim always contested by independent researchers who put the figure  to around 10. Experts are alarmed by the government plans to have 100 more cheetahs in the coming years in Kuno. " This shows the  element of high mortality  in the plan and the related stress ", they said .  The present Cheetah Action Plan time line is already disturbed.  The action plan  under the head -Soft Release- said that " Radio collared male (coalitions) would be released from the holding enclosure first after an appropriate period (1-2 months). They are expected to establish a coalition territory after exploring and investigating the available habitat, but would tend to return to the enclosure to meet the females."  The plan further said that  “ the presence of females in the main enclosure would ensure that the males do not wander too far away, after their exploration instinct is satiated. Their movements would be monitored 24 hours a day by the local state forest department staff, assisted by the cheetah research team. If any animal tends to get into undesirable environment, it would be brought back. Darting would only be done if essential, by qualified trained personnel. The males were to be released 1-2 months after they reached Kuno. It is nearly 5 months now when they were brought to Kuno in September and they are still to be released.

Also readUltimate Test When Cheetahs Face Leopards in Kuno National 

According to the action plan, the radio collared females would be released, 1-4 weeks after the males, depending upon the state of the males’ comfort in the new environment. The females would be monitored and kept under observation through radio telemetry, as in the case of males described above. According to the action plan, it was expected that all  8 cheetahs  - three males and five  females- would settle down and  establish home ranges or territories within one to three months after they are made free ranging.  But  they are yet to be released  in the open jungle and the government has decided to import 12 more from South Africa."How and why they are deviating from the plans and timelines mentioned in the Action Plan", asked a senior official of the  Union ministry of forest , environment and climate change (MoEF&CC).

Also readPrep Before Cheetahs Become Free Ranging In Kuno National Park

Three of the five females  from Namibian cheetah lot had a history of captive breeding   and this makes them vulnerable in the wild. One of them -Sasha- is still recovering after she fell ill. She was severely malnourished before she was picked up from farm fields  from a village in Namibia where she was captured and rehabilitated before  she was sent to India. Remember India had objected to this. Now the question being raised by many India officials was , " How would cheetahs meet to mate? ''  .

No Estrus under Stress 

cheetah in kuno

According to scientists estrus in female cheetahs is not predictable or regular. This is one of the reasons why it is difficult to breed cheetahs in captivity. Mating receptivity depends on environmental factors that, researchers have found, are triggered by the proximity of males and their scent markings. Estrus lasts from 15 to 20 days and that too when she is not under "survival stress". And in case of the stress, there is no estrus, may be for even six months, scientists said. 

 “Even a slightest sign of survival stress would  lead to a  female cheetah to avoid a male. She would rather move away in the opposite direction", scientists said. 

Also readCheetahs In Kuno Kill Another Deer But The Real Test Awaits

 And there are many causes for stress once the animal becomes free ranging. At the moment three males and four females are ready to be released in the forest.  But how would they meet under stress. This is the whole aim of the project to have cubs but how would it happen, says another official.  ”Do they have to change their plan", he said adding, " this was known before hand. Even otherwise things are always different when it comes to execution of the plan in the field".    But there are others who said “their survival in the wild comes first and reproduction is secondary."  To cut the long story short, they said, it is a long project and we have over 100 cheetahs at our disposal in the coming years. "The experiment has just begun and you better wait for atleast 10 years”, he said smilingly.

By Deshdeep Saxena    

Representational images . Banner image sourced from Press Information Bureaue 

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A Cheetah By The Tail

 Cheetah  rescue operations after they stray  away from the  safe confines  of  congested  Kuno national park  have been reported   regularly in India  since  September 2022 when  the  maiden  batch of African cat landed in India  amidst much fanfare. But the latest visuals of yet another such action- this time in  a crowded Rajasthan village in Karauli district-put a question mark again  on the safety of the animal.   This cheetah had to be handled physically in order to prevent it from falling into a ravine as it cornered at the crest of the ravine after darting amid a gathering of an huge crowd nearby. Pawan's Life Was At Risk  Rajasthan forest  department officials alerted Kuno  National Park authorities  about the cheetah leading them to a rescue operation. Pawan, the male cheetah had wandered into Rajasthan through Chambal river bank and was spotted by the local villagers who in turn informed the  local authorities. “Male cheetah Pavan was rescued from Karauli district in Raj