India new home for the cheetah

For India, it is the culmination of decades-long planning reaching a point of impact in 2020 when the Supreme Court permitted the project on an experimental basis.

Published: 26th July 2022 07:22 AM  |   Last Updated: 27th July 2022 04:15 PM   |  A+A-

Come August, India’s wildlife conservation effort will have its tryst with history. By mid-next month, four pairs of African cheetah will have landed in the country as part of an agreement the Government of India entered into with the Republic of Namibia last week. A unique inter-continental translocation of the large cats will pave the way for the reintroduction of cheetahs under an ambitious project to mark India’s 75th year of Independence. Its population is dwindling in Africa, and the world’s fastest land animal will test a new home in Asia.

For India, it is the culmination of decades-long planning reaching a point of impact in 2020 when the Supreme Court permitted the project on an experimental basis. After assessing ten sites, the Centre zeroed in on Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh to ground the project. Bringing the charismatic species back to India has multiple connotations, one of which, as described by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, is the restoration of evolutionary balance since the large cat is an apex predator that roamed the country’s forests before its extinction in 1952. Cultural symbolism apart, the successful reintroduction of the cheetah would also boost grassland ecosystems and give India a special place in global wildlife conservation and management.

The cheetah reintroduction project has its fair share of critics and challenges. First, it’s not reintroduction because India is bringing in the African Cheetah, not the Asiatic subspecies, found only in Iran. Cheetahs need extensive grasslands free of humans and with ample prey population, which the chosen site does not exactly offer. Spread over 750 sq km, Kuno, earlier selected for the reintroduction of Asiatic Lions of Gir forests in Gujarat, is home to leopards and tigers, which means the cheetahs will have more than one competitor cat in an alien habitat where it would have to adapt. 

Besides, there are valid arguments over spending crores of rupees on an exotic species while conservation of flagship native species faces an extreme resource crunch. The project promises to be audacious but will test the country’s wildlife conservation might technically and scientifically for sure.


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