Published: 17th September 2022
#WhatTheFAQ: Cheetahs step on India soil 70 years after extinctions. What's their significance?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi released three cheetahs from Namibia at Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh on his 72nd birth anniversary, that is, September 17, 2022
Make way for big cats! Finally, 70 years after they were declared extinct in India, the big cats — cheetahs, stepped on Indian soil. Today, September 17 is the day which will be remembered for the same. Today also being Prime Minister Narendra Modi's 72nd birthday, he released these Namibian cats at Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh. A total of eight cheetahs were brought from Africa under Project Cheetah for reintroduction.
Apart from the fact that these big cats are the fastest mammal species in the world, what else do you know? Read #WhatTheFAQ to know all the unknown facts about cheetahs in India.
What is a Project Cheetah?
It is a project taken up by the Indian government to re-establish these big cats in their historical range, India. This aims to allow cheetahs to perform their roles as top predators and help in the expansion of cheetah species, thereby, contributing to its global conservation efforts. The basic aim of the project is to revitalise and diversify India's wildlife and its habitat, the government said.
The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India (MoEF&CC) tweet dated September 13, 2022, read: "A historic agreement between India and Namibia has been signed on 20th July, 2022, in the field of biodiversity conservation with specific focus on conservation and restoration of cheetah in India."
What is the process of reintroduction?
The reintroduction is being undertaken as per the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) guidelines. And as many as five females and three males between the ages of four to six years were released as part of India’s Rs 90-crore Cheetah Introduction project. After the release as per the norms, the cats will be in big enclosures for a month in order to closely observe if they are carrying any disease and to help them adapt to the new environment. The enclosures are 50×30 metres in dimension and there are six such enclosures for the eight big cats. After this, they will be released into a bigger enclosure of five square kilometres until they adapt to the new environment.
“In this bigger enclosure, where they will have prey and be able to hunt, we will closely monitor not only their health but also how they are adapting to Kuno, hunting, feeding, excreta etc. Once this is found to be satisfactory, they will be released into the 740 sq km Kuno National Park,’’ SP Yadav, Member Secretary, National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) told The Indian Express.
What precautions have been taken?
So far, 24 of the 25 villages with a population of about 5,000 have been resettled to make way for India's lost mammal species. Additionally, feral dogs in the region have been vaccinated to ensure that they do not spread any disease to the spotted animals, the NTCA chief said, adding that locals in the regions have been sensitised about the new guests.
Does this mean more cheetahs will land in India in the near future?
As India aims to bring 50 cheetahs to India in the next five years, it will soon sign a Memorandum of Agreement with South Africa. In this initiative, India will fly 12 cheetahs from South Africa to India soon, thereby, the total number of cheetahs will rise to 20.
When did this project start?
It was back in 2009, that the project to re-introduced cheetahs gained momentum when Jairam Ramesh was the Environment Minister. Officials informed that the African Cheetah Introduction Project in India was conceived back then.
Moreover, the Indian National Congress tweeted claiming: "In 2013, the Supreme Court banned the project, in 2020 the ban was lifted." And now the cheetahs were successfully released into the Kuno National Park.
Why Kuno National Park?
Only three wildlife sanctuaries in India are suitable homes for cheetahs which support their population. As per the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) recommendation in 2010, these three sites are suitable hosts: Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary and Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary, both in Madhya Pradesh, and Shahgarh Landscape in Rajasthan.
When did the long-legged cats go extinct in India?
It was in 1947 that the last three fast pacers from the mammal species were believed to be killed by Maharaja Ramanuj Pratap Singh Deo of Korea, Madhya Pradesh in Baroda and in Sarguja. And in 1952, there was an official declaration by the Indian government about the cheetah extinct in the country.
To recall, the Mughals, Rajputs and Maratha royalty kept cheetahs for hunting gazelles and blackbuck. However, there was a decline in cheetahs due to a lack of breeding.
What are a few unknown facts about cheetahs?
1. The cheetah is an integral part of Indian history going back to ancient times
2. Even though it has never been a man-eater it is the only mammal to have been hunted to complete extinction in India
3. It is perhaps the only mammal to derive its name from Sanskrit origin being 'c|h|itraka', meaning spotted
4. In the late 19th century, more than one lakh cheetahs were living in Africa, West Asia and Asia, including, India. Today, there are less than 8,000 African cheetahs (Botswana, Namibia, South Africa) and fewer than 50 Asiatic cheetahs (Eastern Iran) in the wild
5. At least 15 years is the average amount of time it takes for a species to adapt, rewild, breed and thrive well enough to become part of the new landscape to which they have been introduced