If all goes as planned, India’s forests will once again be home to the wild cheetah by August — the fastest animal on land that went extinct in the country way back in the 1950s.
The government has been holding consultation meetings with South Africa and Namibia for translocating the feline species to the protected forests in Madhya Pradesh. According to the latest update from the ministry of environment, forests, and climate change, the talks are now in the advanced stage, and the wild cat may arrive in India by August.
“The agreement with South Africa is in place. A technical team is also set to visit India for inspection around 15 June. There are a lot of considerations that need to be taken into account for a successful translocation, so that process is currently on,” said a senior official from the ministry of environment, forest and climate change about the major inter-continental translocation of the fastest land animal on earth.
An extremely vulnerable animal, the cheetah was declared extinct in India in 1952, and currently, there are no cheetahs in any national park or wildlife sanctuary here.
According to the proposed plan, at least eight to 12 cheetahs (male and female) would be brought to India over the next five years from African countries including South Africa, and Namibia. The number would be gradually increased to over 32, as the animals get successfully rehabilitated. The big cats would be fitted with Satellite/GSM-GPS-VHF radio collars before their release in the wild so as to enable monitoring remotely.
According to the ministry officials, due care is being taken in terms of their reproductive age group, and capabilities to hunt down their prey for successfully rehabilitating the animal which is being imported from the African countries.
This will be founder stock for five years initially and then as may be required by the programme.
Based on scientific assessments carried out by expert groups in the past, Madhya Pradesh’s Kuno National Park has been considered for the introduction of cheetahs for the pilot project. Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary and Gandhisagar Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh and Bhainsrorgarh Wildlife Complex and Shahgarh in Rajasthan were other sites examined earlier.
The cheetah is the only large carnivore to have become extinct in Independent India. With no cheetahs left in the wild, the government had decided to introduce them from other countries. According to the government, the cheetah has been an integral part of Indian ecosystems, a major evolutionary force, and important cultural heritage. Their restoration will likely result in better conservation of open forest, grassland, and scrub ecosystems for which they will serve as a flagship species.
The government had earlier informed Parliament that an amount of Rs 38.70 crore under the ongoing centrally sponsored scheme of Project Tiger has been allocated to the cheetah introduction project for the years 2021-22 to 2025-26.