Project Cheetah

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    In News

    • Recently, eight cheetahs have landed in Gwalior from Namibia’s capital Windhoek and reintroduced in Kuno National Park. The day also marks PM Modi’s 72nd birthday.  

    Timeline/ History of cheetah reintroduction in India

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    • Cheetah or Acinonyx Jubatus: It is the fastest terrestrial animal on earth. The cheetah is the only large carnivore that got completely wiped out from India, mainly due to over-hunting and habitat loss. 
    • Meaning: The word ‘Cheetah’ is of Sanskrit origin meaning ‘variegated’, ‘adorned’ or ‘painted’.
    • Earliest historical references:
      • They are found in classical Greek records of India, from Strabo, about 200 years before the Common Era.
      • In the Mughal Period, cheetahs were used very extensively for hunting. Emperor Akbar had 1,000 cheetahs in his menagerie.
      • Central India, particularly the Gwalior region, had cheetahs for a very long time. Various states including Gwalior and Jaipur used to hunt cheetahs.
    • 1947: 
      • The country’s last spotted cheetah died in Sal forests of Chhattisgarh’s Koriya district in 1948 and the wild animal was declared extinct in the country in 1952.
      • Maharaja Ramanuj Pratap Singh, the ruler of a small princely state in today’s Chhattisgarh shot India’s last 3 surviving cheetahs. 
    • 1st plan to reintroduce the cheetah: First solid steps were taken in the 1970s, during negotiations with Iran, then under Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi. Iran’s cheetahs were Asiatic, like India’s extinct animals.
      • The plan was to exchange Asiatic lions for Asiatic cheetahs.
    • 2009: Another attempt to source Iranian Cheetahs was made in 2009 without success. Iran would not permit even cloning of its Cheetahs.
    • 2012: Supreme Court ordered a stay on the reintroduction project.
    • 2020: South African experts visited four potential sites: Kuno-Palpur, Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary, Gandhi Sagar Wildlife Sanctuary and Madhav National Park.

    About the recent translocation programme 

    • Project Cheetah: The introduction of cheetahs in India is being done under Project Cheetah, which is the world’s first intercontinental large wild carnivore translocation project.
    • Coexistence approach: India has opted for this approach. It is even more unique because this is the first time cheetahs will be reintroduced in an unfenced protected area (PA).
      •  Significance of Coexistence approach
        • The Coexistence approach is considered more favourable by social scientists.
        • Fencing has proven to be a valuable tool in eliminating cheetahs’ tendency to range over wide distances in South Africa and Malawi, thus allowing for population growth.
        • The core conservation area of KNP is largely free of anthropogenic threats.
      • Challenges associated with Coexistence approach 
        • Kuno NP will be more challenging, as it is not enclosed / fenced.
        • There have been no successful cheetah reintroductions into unfenced systems.
        • Anthropogenic threats to cheetah survival include snaring for bush meat and retaliatory killings due to livestock depredation.
        • This would place them at the risk of human-related mortality including snaring and retaliatory killings by livestock farmers.
    • Fortress conservation: Cheetahs have been reintroduced several times in various African countries
      • But these reintroductions were all done in fenced PAs as fencing provides safety from human-animal conflict caused due to cheetahs killing livestock. 

    Kuno National Park

    • Kuno National Park is a national park in MP established in 1981 as a wildlife sanctuary. 
    • In 2018, it was given the status of a national park
    • It is part of the Khathiar-Gir dry deciduous forests.
    • KunoPalpur Wildlife Sanctuary is underway to become India’s second home for the Asiatic lion. 

     

    Significance of Cheetah reintroduction

    • India as historical Cheetah habitat: The Cheetah habitat in India historically is from Jammu to Tamil Nadu, very widespread and they were found in any habitat dry forests, grasslands, scrub forest, etc.
    • Pray base: Experts believe that as long as there is enough food and there is protection they will regenerate on their own. A‘prey base’ that can sustain the population and that has already been prepared at the Kuno-Palpur sanctuary.
    • Cheetahs will help in the restoration of open forest and grassland ecosystems in India. 
    • The cheetah is a flagship grassland species; whose conservation also helps in preserving other grassland species in the predator food chain. 
    • This will help conserve biodiversity and enhance the ecosystem services like water security, carbon sequestration and soil moisture conservation, benefiting society at large.
    • It will also lead to enhanced livelihood opportunities for the local community through eco-development and ecotourism activities.

    Challenges:

    • Coexistence with tigers and leopards: 
      • There may be intra-guild competition between the big cats in Kuno. 
      • More aggressive predators such as tigers and leopards will compete with the cheetahs. 
      • They may be driven to the outskirts of the park, where they could come into conflict with humans.
    • Locational Challenges of Kuno-Palpur National Park:
      • Different vegetation type:
        • The protected area of Kuno-Palpur National Park is largely dry, deciduous forest. 
        • The initial criticism was if the African cheetahs who are more used to the savannahs of that continent adapt well to Kuno.
      • Specific prey base:  
        • Indian cheetahs were largely dependent on blackbucks and chinkaras, sometimes on chital and rarely on nilgai. 
        • Few of these species are believed to have disappeared from Kuno.
      • Asiatic lion project: 
        • Some 24 villages have been relocated and rehabilitated from Kuno for this project. 
        • But now, Cheetah reintroduction may delay this project.

    Way forward/ Government’s efforts

    • Livestock losses
      • India should have a functional compensation scheme in place to deal with this potential threat. 
    • Monitoring
      • Radio collars have been installed in all the cheetahs and will be monitored through satellite. There will also be a dedicated monitoring team behind each cheetah who will keep monitoring location for 24 hours.
    • Increasing prey base:
      • To increase prey base inside the 500-hectare enclosure, the Kuno National Park has brought in 238 chitals or spotted deer (Axis axis) from Pench and Narsinghgarh Wildlife Sanctuaries of the state and are planning to bring in around 300 more deer.
    • Gradual coexistence:
      • Over time, says the action plan by the Centre, cheetah and leopard populations will be able to coexist.  

    More about Cheetahs

    • About:
      • The cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) is a large cat native to Africa and central Iran
      • It is the fastest land animal, estimated to be capable of running at 80 to 128 km/h.
      • There are four recorded subspecies of Cheetahs.
    • Threats:
      • The cheetah is threatened by several factors such as habitat loss, conflict with humans, poaching and high susceptibility to diseases.
    • Asiatic Vs African Cheetahs:
      • Research found that Asiatic cheetahs split from the African cheetah between 32,000 and 67,000 years ago. 

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    African Cheetah

    Asiatic Cheetah

    IUCN status: They are vulnerable under the IUCN Red List.

     

    Distribution: Around 6,500-7,000 African cheetahs present in the wild.

     

    Characteristics: They are bigger in size as compared to Asiatic Cheetah.

    IUCN status: The Asiatic cheetah is classified as a “critically endangered” species by the IUCN Red List.

     

    Status in India: The Asiatic Cheetah was declared extinct in India in 1952.

     

    Distribution: They are only 40-50 and found only in Iran.

     

    Characteristics: Smaller and paler than the African cheetah.

    Source: DTE