Wednesday 10 August 2022

Leopards move on to land reserved for new cheetah arrivals in India

You may have heard that the Indian authorities want to reintroduce the cheetah into India after they became extinct in that country in 1952 due to persecution by hunters, diminishing prey and a loss of habitat. It is a brave policy to reintroduce the cheetah into India perhaps primarily because there might not be enough space for them. They are fussy about where they live as they like open grasslands and scrub forests and there is not much of it in India.

Leopards move onto land reserved for new cheetahs in India
The beautiful cheetah. Leopards have moved onto land reserved for new cheetah arrivals in India. It has caused some consternation among the rangers.

They've chosen the Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary a.k.a. Kuno National Park. And sadly, their efforts to bring cheetahs back to India for the first time in 70 years have been undermined by native leopards as they have moved into the enclosure set aside for the new arrivals.

The plan was to bring eight cheetahs from Namibia in Africa which is the place where most of them currently exist on the planet. But park rangers at the Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh, have been forced to jump into action having discovered that six leopards invaded the 5 km² fenced area of the National Park allocated to the cheetahs.

The rangers have managed to trap and tranquilize three leopards and moved them to a different area of the park which is located 60 miles west of Shivpuri in central India. The three remaining leopards have yet to be trapped and the rangers are becoming nervous.

Amritanshu Singh, who is in charge of the enclosure, said: "The camera traps show us the path the leopards are taking and where they are. We have set up leghold traps, which do not hurt the animal but set off an alarm telling us they are inside the cage".

The last cheetahs in India were hunted down by a maharajah following decades of declining numbers. Narendra Modi's government was very proud in declaring the reintroduction of cheetahs into his country after a deal with the authorities in Namibia.

The plan is to import more from South Africa over the forthcoming five years to a maximum of 50. Wildlife campaigners have questioned the practicalities of this project and whether the conditions are right for cheetahs to return to India. They have described the project as a "vanity project".

The authorities have prepared for the reintroduction of the fastest land animal by moving about 100 deer into the area so that they have access to prey in what will be initially unfamiliar surroundings.

They fear that the cheetahs may struggle to acclimatise in part because they would have to compete against the big cats. They mean tigers and leopards. I don't know whether tigers are in this part of the park, probably not. I suspect that cheetahs will purposefully avoid leopards but it will curtail their movements.

Singh said: "African leopards do not typically like cheetahs so it may be the same with Indian leopards, who, moreover, have never seen a cheetah in their lives. It will be interesting to see their reaction."

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