A group of specialists from South Africa and India conducted a review of Project Cheetah at Kuno National Park. They discovered that 20 cheetahs had been successfully moved to KNP in September 2022 and February 2023. The main goal of Project Cheetah is to bring the species back to its former range in India, boost global cheetah conservation, and improve ecosystem well-being. The team submitted a report on the present status of the project and its future plans.
- A cheetah is a large, carnivorous wildcat with a distinctive spotted coat and long, slender body.
- The cheetah is a very old species of big cat, dating back more than five million years to the Miocene era.
- It is the fastest land animal, capable of reaching speeds of up to 70 miles per hour in short bursts covering distances up to 460 meters.
- The scientific name of the cheetah is Acinonyx jubatus.
- Cheetahs are primarily found in Africa, but they used to inhabit India as well.
- They are known for their hunting abilities, as they use their speed and agility to catch prey, such as gazelles and antelopes.
- Cheetahs are listed as a vulnerable species, with an estimated population of around 7,000 individuals in the wild due to habitat loss, poaching, and declining prey populations.
- Conservation efforts, such as Project Cheetah, aim to protect and restore the cheetah population to its historical range.
Extinction of Cheetahs in India
- The cheetah, also known as the hunting leopard, was once found in India and was known to be a favorite among Indian royalty for its hunting prowess.
- It is believed that cheetahs were first domesticated in India and were used for hunting purposes.
- However, by the 20th century, the cheetah population in India had declined significantly due to various factors such as habitat loss, hunting, and disease.
- For a long time, cheetahs were found in various states of central India, particularly in Gwalior.
- However, India’s last spotted cheetah died in 1948 in the Sal forests of Chhattisgarh’s Koriya district, leading to the official extinction of the species in India in 1952.
- The country’s last three surviving cheetahs were shot by Maharaja Ramanuj Pratap Singh, the ruler of a small princely state in Chhattisgarh.
India’s ambitious plan for transcontinental relocation of Cheetahs
- India has an ambitious plan to translocate cheetahs from Africa to India.
- This transcontinental relocation of cheetahs is being done under the supervision of the Indian government and wildlife experts.
- The project aims to restore the species to its historical range in India and enhance ecosystem health.
- The idea of translocating African cheetahs to India was first proposed in 1990, and it gained momentum in 2010 when the Supreme Court of India gave the green light to the project.
- The plan involved importing African cheetahs from Namibia, which were kept in a quarantine facility for six months before being released into the wild.
- The relocation took place in three phases and the target areas were Madhya Pradesh’s Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary and Rajasthan’s Shahgarh Landscape.
- On September 17, 2022, eight cheetahs arrived in India from Namibia, marking the beginning of a program to reintroduce the species to India, where it was declared extinct seventy years ago.
- The release took place at the Kuno National Wildlife Sanctuary, located 320 kilometers south of New Delhi, and was overseen by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
- Kuno National was chosen for its large number of prey and grasslands.
- On 18th February 2023, Union Environment Minister Bhupendra Yadav and Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan oversaw the release of twelve South African cheetahs into enclosures located within Kuno National Park in Sheopur district, Madhya Pradesh.
- The project is being closely monitored, and wildlife experts are working to ensure the successful relocation of these majestic animals.
The Project Cheetah, which aims to reintroduce the cheetah in India, has encountered new difficulties following the recent deaths of two of its cheetahs. Uday, a six-year-old male cheetah, passed away on April 23, 2023, in Kuno National Park, while Sasha, a five-year-old female cheetah, died on March 27, 2023, in the same park. With these fatalities, only 18 cheetahs remain in the project out of the original 20. As a result, the government is now considering alternative conservation strategies, such as the South African approach of conserving cheetahs in enclosed reserves.
- The project had set a short-term goal of achieving a 50% survival rate for the first year, which is 10 out of the 20 translocated cheetahs.
- However, experts have highlighted that the carrying capacity of Kuno National Park for cheetahs was overestimated. This has put added pressure on the project staff to identify alternative sites for the cheetahs.
Significance of Project Cheetah
- Cheetahs were once widely spread across India, from Jammu to Tamil Nadu, and lived in various habitats such as dry forests, grasslands, and scrub forests.
- Experts believe that cheetahs can regenerate on their own as long as they have enough food and protection. The Kuno-Palpur sanctuary has already prepared a “prey base” to support the cheetah population.
- The reintroduction of cheetahs in India will help restore open forest and grassland ecosystems, as cheetahs are a flagship grassland species that supports the preservation of other species in the predator food chain.
- The conservation of cheetahs will also help preserve biodiversity and enhance ecosystem services such as water security, carbon sequestration, and soil moisture conservation, which will benefit society at large.
- The reintroduction of cheetahs will also create new opportunities for the local community, such as eco-development and ecotourism activities, which can contribute to enhanced livelihoods.
Differences between African Cheetah and Asiatic Cheetah
- Physical Appearance: The Asiatic cheetah has a lighter coat and a flatter face than the African cheetah. The Asiatic cheetah’s coat color is more beige or tan, while the African cheetah has a more golden coat with black spots.
- Habitat: The Asiatic cheetah is found in Iran, while the African cheetah is found in several countries across Africa.
- Population: The Asiatic cheetah is critically endangered with less than 50 individuals left in the wild, while the African cheetah is classified as vulnerable with an estimated population of around 7,000 individuals.
- Genetic Differences: Studies have shown that the Asiatic cheetah is genetically distinct from the African cheetah and may have diverged from a common ancestor around 30,000 years ago.
- 3 August Current Affairs 2023 in English
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