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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

Cheetahs in Kuno: Deep Divide Over the Project

 

Cheetah

As more and more African cheetahs are brought to Kuno national park in an attempt to introduce them in India, the International community of   cheetah conservationists and scientists are deeply divided over the controversial conservation project in the jungle- originally earmarked as a second home to Asiatic lions. Conservationists and scientists  for and against the project have been  expressing their opinion in an international journal -Nature ecology & evolution .  About five months after  a group of eminent scientists and  experts  criticized the project , those in favour of it including a group from  Namibia and South Africa “respectfully disagreed” .  But the critics have reacted sharply over the “scientific evidence” produced in support of the ongoing cheetah project.

"Restoring Species Essential "

CCF Cheetah Conservation Work

About six months ago a team of international scientists and biologists questioned the “incomplete”   Cheetah Action Plan with an unscientific   approach relying on “  decade-old flawed  projections from Namibia”. Making a scathing attack on the translocation project of the iconic species in Kuno National Park, 8 scientists and conservationists wrote in the international journal that the project may lead to “human –cheetah conflict”. They said it was a flawed project and  “advised”  the government to “prepare a revised science based” action plan.  In reply, 12 cheetah experts   Adrian S W Tordiffe, Yadvendradev V Jhala ,Luigi Boitani ,Bogdan  Cristescu ,Richard A Kock  , Leith R C, Meyer, Simon Naylor , Stephen J O’Brien ,Anne Schmidt-Küntzel, Mark R Stanley Price  ,Vincent van der Merwe and  Laurie Marker defended the project. While Tordiffe  is a  key personality  for  the cheetah  project  in South Africa  and also a faculty of veterinary science in Pretoria university, Jhala is an eminent scientist   from the Wildlife Institute of India  and was instrumental in cheetah  introduction  in Kuno. In a sudden move the government cut short his services by one year his services surprising many.  Others include experts from different universities of Namibia, USA and England among others. Two important figures include Merwe and Laurie Marker and belong respectively from  the  Metapopulation Initiative and Cheetah Conservation FundNamibia.  They said “ We have been involved in scientifically advising on the Indian reintroduction project, and we respectfully disagree ( with  the   theory that the  action plan was flawed and  needs to prepare a science based plan).

Also read:  Cheetahs In Kuno National Park : Future Tense ! 

 “  Herein, we address each of Gopalaswamy ( the  lead author of the  group  against the project)  and colleagues’ arguments and offer scientific evidence in support of this ongoing, restorative conservation effort”, they said.  They also write “Cheetahs historically occupied an ecological niche within Indian savannahs and open forest systems that is now vacant. Filling this void would contribute to the restoration of the functional ecology of these systems through top-down processes. Restoring species and their roles in ecosystems is essential for effective and comprehensive rewilding, and carnivore reintroduction is particularly important for ecosystem restoration”.

Also read: Ultimate Test When Cheetahs Face Leopards in Kuno National Park

 They also argue “The primary threats, including poaching and human–wild- life conflict, that caused cheetah extinction in India have abated through effective legislation and enforcement. Furthermore, reintroduction was proposed within protected sites in the historical range after habitat and pre availability and anthropogenic pressures were assessed. There are currently about 100,000  square of legally protected wildlife reserves within the historical range of the cheetah in India that can potentially accommodate breeding cheetah populations and, according to our assessment, 700,000 square of total habitat that can potentially sustain cheetah occupancy.”

"Distorted Picture of True Situation"

Cheetah

This rebuttal from Tordiffe , Jhala and  their colleagues  almost coincided with the  arrival of  cheetahs from South Africa. This was delayed by almost five months. Following this write up, thewildlifeindia.com attempted to take the reaction of those who had been skeptical over the cheetah project. Not all of them could be contracted .But some of them like  Gus Mills ,considered as the world’s most  experienced  wild cheetah biologist  and ecologist,  has reacted sharply. Gus says,” You can’t restore an ecosystem by simply introducing large carnivores. Before such introduction, the habitat and prey populations need to be taken care of. Restoration should be bottom up, not top down as is stated in the paper”. 

Referring  to another point raised by Tordiffe and his colleagues over the primary threats, including poaching and human–wildlife conflict, that caused cheetah extinction  in India have abated through effective legislation and enforcement , Gus pointed out, “ The primary threat to cheetahs is habitat degradation. Has this been adequately addressed in more than a microcosm of the 100,000 square km protected sites, never mind the 700,000  square kms potential areas of cheetah occupancy, and given the human population density in India, will it ever be possible to do so? These figures are giving a highly distorted picture of the true situation.”

 Also readHow would Cheetahs in Kuno Meet and Mate ?

 To another point raised by the project proponents -all extant cheetah subspecies have a similar genetic distance from the Asiatic cheetah. The southern African cheetah population has the greatest documented genetic diversity, Gus said, “Are not the Horn of Africa -cheetahs genetically the closest to the Asiatic ones, and is there not a population of this subspecies available, at least in the medium term, for a reintroduction program? ” He also contested the view  that the managed cheetah metapopulation in southern Africa (about 500 individuals) is increasing at 8.8% per annum and claimed ,” This is a highly managed cheetah population, with artificially high prey densities South Africa should consolidate its approach to metapopulation management by consolidating reserves and not artificially harvesting populations.” The Horn -of -Africa Cheetah Landscape is a large area of great concern for cheetah conservation that covers Somalia and the eastern and southern parts of Ethiopia, the south-eastern corner of South Sudan and a northern strip of Kenya. It is of special interest due to the illegal trade in cheetahs which is understood to be sourcing live cubs from this part of the continent for sale as pets to the Middle East. 

Also readCheetah Revives Hopes Of  Wolf Howling  

Reacting on the issue of fenced and unfenced parks- ( Kuno is an unfenced national park with about 748 square km of core area), the Tordiffe and his colleagues claimed that , “ In a different project in Namibia, 36 cheetahs were successfully released onto farmlands, or unfenced or fenced reserves, with 75–96% of individuals achieving independence after release and a high annual survival rate.  Gus clarified, “ Laurie Marker has found that cheetah home ranges in this part of Namibia are enormous, by far the largest that have been measured, over 2000  square km”. 

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

Dr Abi Tamim Vanak , an animal ecologist and conservation biologist focusing on the ecology and conservation of India's semi-arid savanna grasslands  has  reacted on the claims that  filling the “void  of Indian savannahs and open forest systems “ would contribute to the restoration of the functional ecology of these systems through top-down processes.  The senior faculty at Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment  said, “ In a recent paper, we showed that the majority of savannah grasslands and other Open natural ecosystems are not protected. Indeed, over 70% of them are classified as “Wastelands” by the Ministry of Rural Development.” He said that “ These grasslands already harbour critically endangered species such as the Great Indian bustard, black buck, Indian wolf and other species that are rapidly declining. We call for an urgent action plan on conserving these ecosystems for their inherent biodiversity values, as well as the livelihood benefits they provide to millions of people.” 

By Deshdeep Saxena

Representational Images. Cover  Pic : CCF Cheetah 

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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