'The Return of Chitrakayah' book review: A comprehensive look at the Cheetah reintroduction programme

The book brings to light the multifaceted dimensions of the Project that intertwines scientific inquiry, ecological restoration, socio-economic considerations and cultural sensitivities.
The historical range of cheetahs in India encompassed much of the country except the Himalayas, the coastline and the northeast region.
The historical range of cheetahs in India encompassed much of the country except the Himalayas, the coastline and the northeast region.

The Return of Chitrakayah by Chandra Prakash Goyal and Satya Prakash Yadav captures the story of bringing the Cheetah from Africa back to our country, and the hard work of the team involved with the initiative. According to the authors, “this endeavour... was a huge risk standing at the precipice of several ecological and socio-economic challenges, least to mention scientific experiments don’t have a predetermined outcome”. Today, with the birth of several cheetah cubs, India has taken definitive steps to re-establish the animal back to its historic range, in the country’s savanna habitats.

Did you know that the word ‘cheetah’ comes from the Sanskrit term chitrakayah? It refers to the animal’s spotted coat pattern. The historical range of cheetahs in India encompassed much of the country except the Himalayas, the coastline and the northeast region. Ancient cave paintings around the Chambal Valley point to their existence well over a thousand years ago.Unfortunately, large-scale capture from the wild to fill the royal menageries for coursing, bounty and sport hunting led to the species’ downfall in India. Breeding in captivity was met with little success, and extensive habitat conversion with consequent decline in prey base only added to the woes 18th century onwards, thereby making cheetahs a rare species in the Indian subcontinent by the beginning of the 20th century. That is when Indian royals began to import them from Africa for the love of coursing. In 1947, it is widely believed that the last wild cheetahs in India were shot by Maharaja Ramanuj Pratap Singh Deo of Koriya, now in Chhattisgarh.

The decline, however, was formally acknowledged only in 1952 at the first wildlife board meeting held by the government in Mysuru. Since then, one of independent India’s dreams was to bring back the unparalleled grace and speed of the fastest land animal on the planet. In the Anthropocene, the prospect of bringing back the cheetah to its native habitat emerged as a daunting task with a mosaic of challenges—from the complexities of habitat restoration, navigating socio-political landscapes, meticulous planning and management strategies to the training of field personnel. There were also ethical considerations regarding the origin of cheetah populations for reintroduction and the potential impact on existing flora and fauna.

The government’s plea to introduce the African cheetah in India on an experimental basis was finally approved by the Supreme Court after a long wait in January 2020. But, the pandemic put a spanner in the works, and two years later, the Action Plan for Introduction of Cheetah in India—an over 300-page exhaustive document reflecting the past 13 years of efforts to reintroduce the cheetah—was published in January 2022. The first eight cheetahs arrived in September 2022 from Namibia, followed by 12 from South Africa in February 2023. After one year, the Project showcased India’s exemplary vision and implementation in the field of wildlife conservation. That the cheetahs quickly adapted to their new home in Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh, exploring, hunting and giving birth to a new generation, are indicators of success. And, this is just the beginning of a long process of re-establishing an iconic species.

The book brings to light the multifaceted dimensions of the Project that intertwines scientific inquiry, ecological restoration, socio-economic considerations and cultural sensitivities. It also reveals the unique convergence of expertise from wildlife biologists, conservationists, policymakers, local communities and various other stakeholders invested in the conservation narrative of India, while distilling all the past literature—technical, scientific and historical—in one place.

The Return of Chitrakayah

By: Chandra Prakash Goyal, Satya Prakash Yadav

Publisher: Marshall Advertising

Pages: 124

Price: Rs 1,250

Related Stories

No stories found.

X
The New Indian Express
www.newindianexpress.com