NEW DELHI: In the world’s first-ever intercontinental translocation of large carnivores, eight African cheetahs have been brought to India, seven decades since the spotted cat was last sighted in the country.
The reintroduction of the cheetah – a decades-long effort by successive regimes – into its former habitat is being proclaimed as a major breakthrough in conservation. Perhaps that explains the associated pageantry and politics. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who launched the world’s first cheetah rehabilitation project on his birthday, rightly noted the harmony between the nature and the Indian worldview of inclusive development.
The release of the cheetahs is part of PM Modi’s efforts to revitalise and diversify India’s wildlife and its habitat. It is also the proof of the fact that ecology is not in conflict with development.
The cheetahs will help restore open forest and grassland ecosystems in India. This effort, in line with the PM’s commitment to environmental protection and wildlife conservation, will also lead to enhanced livelihood opportunities for the local community through eco-development and ecotourism activities.
The historic reintroduction of cheetahs in India is part of a long series of measures for ensuring sustainability and environment protection in the last eight years which has resulted in significant achievements in the area of environment protection and sustainability.
The global population of the cheetah has declined; it is estimated that only 7,100 of these felines are left in the world. The reintroduction of the cheetah to India is also aimed at resurrecting grasslands, which lie degraded even though they are essential to biodiversity.
The solemn aims notwithstanding, the cheetah Introduction Project is not without significant concerns. Some of the attendant problems, environmentalists argue, can be attributed to the ambitious – unscientific – goals of the programme. According to the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest, India is expected to have around 21 cheetahs in the next 15 years and would have to continue to import in order to establish a viable population.
This would require intensive management and end up consuming a disproportionate volume of thinning resources. Worse, it would distract efforts from critical conservation priorities.
For instance, the Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh, where the cats will be rehabilitated, was originally earmarked for the relocation of some of Gujarat’s lions that are vulnerable to epidemics.
That was not to be, despite a Supreme Court endorsement. Strangely, the African cheetah is being prioritised over native species like the great Indian bustard, the Indian wolf and, blackbuck.
A female cheetah and two brothers who hunt together as a team are among the eight cheetahs released into the Indian wildlife. However, tourists and enthusiasts will have to wait a few months before they can see them.
While the immediate challenge of the authorities is to ensure that the imported animals adapt to Indian conditions and are able to procreate, the other long-term challenges would include the viability of the landscape – depleted grasslands are not contiguous entities