How are cheetahs doing at Kuno?

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How are the Cheetahs doing at Kuno Palpur? They are still within the quarantine zone which is a large open grassland habitat fenced from all sides where the overseas guests roam around, say officials.

They hunt Spotted Deer released within their precincts. They will enjoy luxury of such wild feed to be bagged by them for couple of more months. It is to enable them acclamatize with the local ecological factors and try to forget the conditions of their native habitat in Namibia. Soon that they will be let loose in open fields of Kuno to roam wherever they like to race to find own feed and start a new wilderness life in India.  

Lauri Marker, founder of Cheetah Conservation Foundation in Namibia, conveyed to her Indian counterparts: we have done our job from Namibia. “If you need more Cheetahs, they will be offered. Try South Africa and other neigbouring countries to receive more Cheetahs.”

She was the one who flew to Gwalior in a specially designed aircraft carrying cheetahs for Kuno. She has been to India several times over past two decades to negotiate on cheetahs entry in to India. She is now happy her objective was fulfilled.

By the time, the present lot of eight Cheetahs assume normalcy in Kuno’s wilderness, a new  momentum for importing more cheetahs from Africa will start gathering speed. The Union Environment Ministry has  an action plan  to introduce 50 more Cheetahs in India in the next five years. Not all will be billed for Kuno. So where else?

The States may put in their requests to allocate their quota of cheetahs for next reintroduction drive. Madhya Pradesh’s quota appears full through Kuno. Next in race has been Rajasthan which missed the bus this time. Its Mukundara Reserve was selected as an ideal grassland habitat. Lauri Marker visited it during July 2022. Will it receive some Cheetahs in the next allotment order of the Union Government?

The Cheetah controversy has not died so far. Eight scientists of international stature have unleashed fiery criticism of Union Government over Cheetahs having been imported in India from Namibia. Arjun M. Gopalaswamy, Femke Broekhuis, Leili Khalatbari, Michael G. L. Mills, Ravi Chellam, David Thuo, Abi Tamim Vanak and K. Ullas Karanth, have  said that India’s plan is based on three unsubstantiated claims — that cheetahs have run out of space in Africa; that India currently has sufficient and suitable space for them; and that conservation translocations have been successful in wild cheetah range restoration efforts.

They have written an article titled “Introducing African cheetahs to India is an ill-advised conservation attempt”, published in Nature Ecology and Evolution,  to highlight that there are “unknown ecological, disease-related and genetic risks involved in replacing Asiatic cheetahs with the larger cheetahs from southern Africa.” They added: “The action plan appears to have substantially overestimated cheetah carrying capacity in the first release site (Kuno National Park), which is unfenced, harbouring about 500 feral cattle and surrounded by a forested landscape with 169 human settlements. Neither Kuno nor the other landscapes considered are of the size and quality to permit self-sustaining and genetically viable cheetah populations.”

How to douse such heat? Political pundits feel the Bhartiya Janta Party Government at the Centre will like to use the Cheetahs  as a new politico-wilderness-model to convince the Indian populace over its uncanny decisive stand and try to receive greater vote-support.  Let the Lion remain at Gir. Cheetahs as a new ploy?

Cheetah’s future at  Kuno Palpur National Park is in their own hands and cannot be forecast by any expert as it is a new species to India and none has any past experience with it. Introduction or re-introduction experiments are need of the day. Wait and watch is the best advice, said Harsh Vardhan, renowned wildlife expert.

(Please see: Feature picture is of Dr. Laurie Marker)

Harsh Vardhan
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