New Delhi: Of the 20 translocated Cheetahs from South Africa and Namibia earlier this year, five mortalities of adult individuals have been reported from Kuno National Park, Madhya Pradesh, till date, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, revealed today.
It claimed that as per the preliminary analysis by National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), the apex body entrusted with the implementation of Project Cheetah, all mortalities are due to natural causes. It further dismissed as “speculation and hearsay”, certain media reports, that attributed the Cheetah deaths to other reasons including their radio collars. “Such reports are not based on any scientific evidence,” it claimed.
Under Project Cheetah, a total of 20 radio-collared Cheetahs were brought from Namibia and South Africa to Kuno National Park, Madhya Pradesh, in a first-ever transcontinental wild-to-wild translocation. After the mandatory quarantine period, all Cheetahs were shifted to larger acclimatization enclosures. Currently, 11 Cheetahs are under free-ranging conditions and 5 animals, including a cub born on Indian soil, are within quarantine enclosures. Each of the free-ranging Cheetahs is being monitored round-the-clock by a dedicated monitoring team.
Global experience particularly from South Africa suggests that in the initial phase of the reintroduction of Cheetah in African countries has resulted in more than 50% mortality of introduced Cheetahs. The Government claimed that since Project Cheetah is yet to complete a year, it will be premature to conclude the outcome in terms of success and failure since Cheetah reintroduction is a long-term project. It highlighted that for investigating the cause of Cheetah deaths, consultation with international cheetah experts and veterinary doctors from South Africa and Namibia was being done on a regular basis. Further, the existing monitoring protocols, protection status, managerial inputs, veterinary facilities, training and capacity-building aspects were getting reviewed by independent national experts. The Cheetah Project Steering Committee was closely monitoring the project and had expressed satisfaction over its implementation so far.
“In the last 10 months, all stakeholders involved in this project have gained valuable insights in Cheetah management, monitoring and protection. There is optimism that the project will succeed in the long run and there is no reason to speculate at this juncture.”
Based on the experience gathered so far, now the government is envisaging further steps like establishing a Cheetah Protection Force, providing additional frontline staff, and creating a second home for Cheetahs in Gandhi Sagar Wildlife Sanctuary, Madhya Pradesh. It also plans the establishment of a Cheetah Research Center with facilities for rescue, rehabilitation, capacity building, and interpretation; bringing additional forest area under the administrative control of Kuno National Park for landscape-level management.
Cheetah has been brought back to India after seven decades and the government claimed a project of such a stature is bound to undergo ups and downs. It said the mortality of Cheetahs may happen due to intra-species fights, diseases, and accidents before release and post-release. Mortalities might also result from injury caused during the hunting of prey, poaching, road hits, poisoning and predatory attack by other predators.
“Considering all these eventualities the action plan has made provision for annual supplementation of the initial founder population annually for managing the demographic and genetic composition of the reintroduced population,” the Ministry stated.
It may be mentioned that Project Cheetah is being implemented by National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), a statutory body under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) in collaboration with the Madhya Pradesh Forest Department, Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and Cheetah experts from Namibia and South Africa. The project implementation is being done as per the ‘Action Plan for Introduction in India’ and a Steering Committee comprising eminent experts and officials involved in the first-ever successful tiger reintroduction in Sariska and Panna Tiger Reserve, to oversee the project has also been constituted.
The Government has further deployed a dedicated NTCA team of officials to work in close coordination with the field officials at the Kuno National Park. This team is engaged in analysing real-time field data collated by the field monitoring teams for deciding upon various management aspects including health and related interventions required to be in place for better management.
– global bihari bureau