On a day when eight cheetahs were imported from Africa in a historic reintroduction of the animal to India, leading conservationist Valmik Thapar expressed concern at Kuno National about “how the big cat will run, hunt, feed and raise its young.” . Park in Madhya Pradesh where there is “lack of space and loot”.
“This area is full of hyenas and leopards, which are cheetahs’ main enemies. When you see hyenas chasing and even killing cheetahs in Africa,” he said in an interview with NDTV. “There are 150 villages in the area that have dogs that can tear apart cheetahs. It’s a very gentle animal.”
speed versus space
When asked why the cheetah, the fastest mammal on earth, cannot simply outrun its attackers, he mentioned the difference in terrain. “In places like the Serengeti (national park in Tanzania), cheetahs can run away because there are large grassy areas. In Kuno, it’s a problem unless you convert forest to grassland… in fast corners on rocky ground, full of obstacles, it’s a huge challenge (for the cheetahs).”
“Can the government convert forest to grassland? Does the law allow that?” he asked rhetorically.
It was originally planned to relocate some lions from Gir (Gujarat) for a second population in Kuno to prevent disease from wiping them out,” Mr Thapar said, apparently referring to relocations around 2010, “but the Gujarat government did this does not agree.” The Supreme Court initially advocated lion translocation, but approved the cheetah plan about two years ago.
Mr Thapar listed the tiger as another potential threat to the cheetah in Kuno: “Sometimes even tigers come here from Ranthambore, one of the reasons why lions could not be relocated. That doesn’t happen often. But we must also include this corridor.”
what will they eat
He also listed problems finding loot. “There are over a million gazelles in the Serengeti. If we don’t breed and introduce blackbuck or chinkaras (that live on grasslands) in Kuno, the cheetahs will have to hunt the spotted deer, which are forest animals and can hide. These deer also have large antlers and can injure the cheetah. And cheetahs can’t afford injuries; it is mostly fatal to them.”
“We have already had to breed chinkaras and blackbucks. But we wanted to make history,” he said. “I’m not sure why we’re doing it at this level. There are many problems with native species balance.”
He said the cheetah has long been a “royal pet” and has “never killed a human.” “It’s so gentle, so fragile. [The relocation] is a huge challenge.”
Wearing sunglasses and a safari hat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi today pulled the lever to release a pride of cheetahs from Namibia to a special enclosure in Kuno.
The Prime Minister – today was his birthday – was seen clicking photos of the big cats after releasing them. The cheetahs, five females and three males, are kept in the quarantine enclosures for about a month before being released into the park’s open forest areas.
The creatures were declared extinct in India in 1952.
Valmik Thapar stressed that they do not do well in breeding. “There are only about 6,500 to 7,100 left in the world. And the mortality rate (death in the young animal stage) is 95 percent. Eight were initially introduced and more would be introduced, rising to 35 over the years. It’s a huge task. They need 24/7 surveillance to make sure they are alive.”