Wheels in motion to reintroduce cheetahs to India


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India will have to wait months to welcome cheetahs to Madhya Pradesh. A five-member team of experts, including JS Chauhan, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) and Chief Wildlife Warden, has returned from Namibia after spending a week there with his African counterparts. It was the first time government officials from the countries met over India’s ambitious cheetah reintroduction project. The meeting was described as “positive” by the officials.

However, there are still months until the cheetahs arrive in India, although the process has now officially begun. According to the PCCF, a memorandum of understanding (MoU) regarding the transfer of the feline has been sent to the African counterparts, and an official signature is awaited. This is probably the very first intercontinental translocation project of a predator that takes place.

“The Cheetahs will come to India but the timing is very difficult to say. It is now a government-to-government project, and the dates must be mutually agreed. They have some things to negotiate while India does not nothing to negotiate,” Chauhan said, speaking to this reporter.

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“A Memorandum of Understanding has been formulated and sent to the Government of India (GoI). The GoI responded to it; now, once the memorandum of understanding is signed, it will pave the way for the timeline. The cheetahs have to come, but how long it will take depends on the donor; India is fully ready to welcome them,” he added.

The team of experts who traveled to Africa for the meeting consisted of Rakesh Kumar Jagenia (Deputy Inspector General of the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Climate Change), Amit Mallick (Inspector General of the National Tiger Conservation Authority), YV Jhala (Dean of Wildlife Institute of India), JS Chauhan (PCCF and CWW MP Forest) and Ashok Barnwal (Senior Secretary MP forest department).

Meanwhile, another team is preparing to be sent to Africa soon. This team will be made up of forestry officers from Kuno National Park, where the cheetahs would be brought, including a veterinarian and a researcher. This team will learn and understand cheetahs, their habitat and more.

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Explaining this, he added: “The cheetah is such a delicate animal that to establish a population here, we need expert supervision. Some field agents who will handle the Cheetah when it arrives will be sent to Africa for training for at least a week or two so that they can stay in the field and understand their job. We know how to handle a leopard and a tiger but as we no longer have cheetahs in India, we don’t have the experience to handle it. So, we have to learn again.

Chauhan also said MP would also expect a team of experts to arrive here. The purpose of the visit by the African experts would be to train and interact with Kuno forestry officers, explaining to them how different it is to manage a cheetah compared to other big cats, and at the same time “what it more needs to be done for cheetah conservation”.

Moreover, when asked if the reintroduction project would mean that India would send animals to African countries in exchange, Chauhan denied it, calling it only a project based on a “donation” perspective.

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“No such request has been made by either Namibia or South Africa where the cheetahs will be brought from. It is purely donation based to expand the territory of the cheetah in its historic distribution.

He also ruled out the possibility of cheetahs being sent to India to avoid breeding within the same gene pool. “They don’t have a gene pool problem in Africa. It can happen in India when we bring cheetahs from there. This means that we will need to infuse fresh Cheetahs every year or every two years for that matter so that the variety in the gene pool is maintained, avoiding the risk of inbreeding. Africans do it very well. They maintain a historical perspective of each animal that includes details such as where it was brought from, what gene pool does it belong to, etc. They will ensure that the cheetahs are sent to India from different gene pools and different geographical locations which will be good for the population to breed here,” he explained.

The big cat, which was declared extinct in India in 1952, will be reintroduced in phases. In the first year, a pair of 10 cheetahs can be reintroduced, and then more will be introduced over a five-year period.

The cheetahs will be taken to MP Kuno National Park in Sheopur district. This is the same protected area where Asiatic Gir lions from Gujarat were to be brought. However, the Gujarat government has been delaying it for more than a decade, despite the Supreme Court‘s order to transfer the lions.

Last updated Feb 28, 2022 4:12 PM IST


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