S P Yadav, Member Secretary of The National Tiger Conservation Authority and Head of the Cheetah Project, spoke about the journey of completing one year and the challenges ahead. India completed one year of its Cheetah reintroduction project on September 17. The decision to “reintroduce” the locally extinct cheetah had created excitement.
Six of the 20 cheetahs, translocated from Namibia and South Africa to Kuno died due to various reasons, and the project drew a lot of criticism from wildlife experts. S P Yadav, Member Secretary of The National Tiger Conservation Authority and Head of the Cheetah Project, spoke about the journey of completing one year and the challenges ahead. Excerpts below: The India cheetah project has completed one year. What is its current status? One must realise that this marks the first intercontinental wild-to-wild translocation of any big carnivores.
Encouragingly, the cheetahs are adapting rapidly, establishing their own home ranges, and no unnatural deaths have been reported thus far. All cheetahs, including captive-reared cheetahs from Namibia, are adapting well. They have begun hunting in the wild, targeting not only their favorite prey, the Cheetal, but also other species such as the four-horned antelope. Even more impressively, the cheetahs have established their ranges. Two of them ventured out of the forest to explore areas up to Sheopur National Park and the Uttar Pradesh borders, covering a range of approximately 200 km.
We had to tranquilize one to bring it back to the forest after realising that managing and protecting them at such large distances wasn’t feasible. Like other carnivores, cheetahs also establish territories, but no territorial fights have been reported. These are often overlooked realities. We find this project to be quite successful, with no doubt about its success from a scientific perspective. It has achieved remarkable milestones. Are there any examples of successful cheetah reintroduction in the wild? South Africa provides a successful example. Cheetahs were on the brink of extinction in South Africa in the 1940s.
They initiated a cheetah reintroduction programme in the 1960s, importing cheetahs from neighboring Namibia. It took 20 years to master the art of reintroducing cheetahs, and although they introduced 279 cheetahs, only 79 survived in the first 20 years. It remains one of the successful international programmes for conserving big carnivores.
India has a strong track record in conserving big cats, boasting the largest populations of tigers, leopards, and being home to Asiatic lions and snow leopards. We were also the first to successfully reintroduce tigers to Sariska and Panna tiger reserves. What are the lessons for cheetah conservationists? The recent deaths of three cheetahs have provided crucial lessons. Neither we nor our Namibian experts anticipated the impact of different climate conditions in two continents.
Cheetahs transferred from the Southern Hemisphere to the Northern Hemisphere, or vice versa, experienced disruptions in their biological clocks, which are tuned to their respective climates. Cheetahs typically develop a winter hair coat on their shoulders and necks during winter. However, in Kuno, the winter season coincided with heat, humidity, and rainfall, leading to problems. Tick infections over minor injuries created serious health issues. (THE NEW INDIAN EXPRESS)