Saturday 15 July 2023

Rewilding of India with cheetahs is becoming a failure

Cheetahs were once widespread in India. They became extinct in 1952 due to habitat loss and their persecution by sport hunters. They are the only predator to become extinct in India since that country's independence in 1947. They want cheetahs back in India and the only way they can achieve it is to import them from Africa which is what they've done. But relocating cheetahs from one continent to another is very risky as is being proven.

Imported cheetah from Namibia to India waiting to be released into the Kuno NP
Imported cheetah from Namibia to India waiting to be released into the Kuno NP. Image: AP.

The Independent newspaper tell me that India has "borrowed" 20 cheetahs from Africa; I presume Namibia where there is the highest population of cheetahs in the world. The word "borrowed" is incorrect. That's obvious. They are a gift from I believe Namibia but these precious cheetahs are finding it too hard to survive. The project the rewilding is called Project Cheetah and was started on Sept 17th, 2022.

The project the rewilding injure with cheetahs is taking place in Kuno National Park. There have now been eight fatalities. The authorities have confirmed of yet another cheetah death bringing the total to 8 in four months.

The most recent death is of a cheetah named Suraj (which means "sun"). This cat's death comes just five days after the country lost its seventh whose name was Tejas (meaning brilliance). This cheetah died of traumatic shock caused by injuries to their neck. Ironically the injuries were caused by a fight with a female cheetah and not by an existing predator within the park.

The report tells me that it is not clear as yet as to why the cheetah died. It must either be an attack from another predator or ill-health. There appears to have been two shipments from Africa. The first shipment was of eight cheetahs and the second was of 12 which occurred in February.

One of them was a female who became pregnant and gave birth in March to 4 cubs. Three of them died. These deaths have been counted into the tally of eight fatalities so far.

I'm told that 15 adult cheetahs remain in the park together with a single surviving cub who is now nearly 5 months old and being reared in captivity. The project was always seen as ambitious. It was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi which indicates its importance to India.

The project is indicative of how very difficult it is to play catch up in conservation. In 1952 India was a different place. The population of India in 2021 was 1.4 billion. In 1952 the population was 373 million. 

The human population of India has more than tripled over the ensuing time which makes it even more difficult to introduce a new species into the country. There's going to be more habitat loss because of the gradual encroachment of new human settlements and commercial activity. 

As mentioned, habitat loss was one reason why the cheetah became extinct in the country in the first place.

Although India does have some good national parks (reserves) although these are often tiger reserves.

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