Cheetahs have made a comeback in India thanks to a new reintroduction effort after being extinct in the country more than 70 years ago. The Cheetah Conservation Fund tweeted that eight cheetahs from Namibia arrived in India on Saturday (CCF). The Kuno National Park in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh is where the large cats were unleashed.
According to a press release from the CCF, the group that arrived in Kuno is made up of three male and five female adult cheetahs from Namibia. Each cheetah was immunized, given a satellite collar, and housed in isolation at the fund’s facility in Otjiwarongo, Namibia.
According to the Prime Minister’s Office, Project Cheetah, the first intercontinental large wild carnivore translocation project in history, is being used to introduce cheetahs to India.
Here, we discuss the rationale for reintroducing cheetahs, how they became extinct, the history of cheetahs in India, and why some people oppose their reintroduction.
Current status of Cheetah:
According to the World Wildlife Fund, the spotted felines can now be found in southern and eastern Africa, mainly in Namibia, Botswana, Kenya, and Tanzania (WWF).
However, the range of the threatened cats used to be much wider. Cheetahs once roamed the majority of sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and central India. Population declines caused by habitat degradation, poaching, and conflicts with people are significant.
According to the WWF, there are currently fewer than 7,000 cheetahs left in the wild. There are just 12 adult cheetahs living in the wild in Iran. In India, the cheetah was formally deemed extinct in 1952. In 1947, a cheetah was murdered for sport.
Significance of reintroduction:
Seven decades after being deemed extinct, cheetahs are being reintroduced to India. Cheetahs will assist in the recovery of India’s open forest and grassland ecosystems. According to the Prime Minister’s Office, this will benefit society as a whole by preserving biodiversity and enhancing ecosystem services including water security, carbon sequestration, and soil moisture conservation.
The cheetahs that are being reintroduced, nevertheless, are African Cheetahs. Asiatic Cheetahs, which are now only present in extremely limited numbers in Iran, are the cheetahs that were once native to India but went extinct.
Primarily, Iran was the ideal candidate for the restoration of cheetahs, and talks with the Iranian Shah were ongoing in the 1970s. However, the Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979 put an end to the Shah’s regime, ending the initiative.
How the reintroduction will work?
Before being reintroduced into the wild, cheetahs will spend a month in quarantine. They would initially be let go into a 500-acre area that was electronically fenced. In a 500-hectare, electrically-fenced region, the animals will initially undergo a “soft-release” during which they will be watched.
History of Cheetahs in India:
The Sanskrit word “chitraka,” which means the dotted one, is thought to have been the source of the “word” cheetah. According to PTI, cheetahs were known to exist in India since ancient times. Neolithic-era cave paintings in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh show the animal.
Cheetahs were reported to prowl over the whole country, especially in Central India, with the exception of the Northeastern, coastal, and mountainous regions.
In his book, The End of a Trail – The Cheetah in India, Divyabhanusinh claims that cheetahs frequented the semi-desert regions, scrub forests, and grasslands of India since these were the habitats best suited to the big cat, allowing it to run with few obstacles to hunt. He also claims that monarchs and nobility domesticated cheetahs and employed them for hunting and coursing. Cheetahs were simpler to tame and train than leopards because they were not known to attack people.
Cheetahs were widely recorded during the Mughal period. The Mughals also used cheetahs in their favorite hunts.
“The hunting preferences of the Mughal emperors were remarkable and on a larger scale than life. Leopard hunting was one of the main pastimes, if not the last royal sport of the Mughals. The miniatures provide a great picture of how Cheetah lived at court,” wrote Divyabhanusinh, who also noted that Akbar was the first Mughal emperor to be introduced to Cheetah by one of his nobles. Jahangir is reported to have hunted an undetermined number of cheetahs. Cheetahs were very popular with the Mughals and aristocrats. As a result, a network of catching and supplying cheetahs to the royal family developed.
While cheetahs were trapped and hunted during the Mughal rule, the forerunner was more numerous than the latter. The British rulers considered their hunting a sport that led to their eventual extinction, along with other factors such as habitat loss due to human population growth and pressure on forests with the expansion of human settlements.
It was money that changed attitudes towards the cheetahs under British rule, which began to place a bounty on them. Cheetahs were hunted in sizable numbers by the colonial authorities, with rewards ranging from Rs 6 for a little one to Rs 18 for an adult. Bounty hunting may therefore have accelerated, if not caused, its decline in many of the localities where it still survives. British hunting also inspired the aristocratic states of India to hunt them, which already hunted larger cat species such as tigers.
According to reports, the last cheetahs in India perished in 1947. In 1952, they were legally declared extinct. The last three Indian cheetahs are thought to have been killed in 1947 by Maharaja Ramanuj Pratap Singh Deo of Koriya in modern-day Madhya Pradesh.
Apprehensions about reintroduction:
According to scientists cited by National Geographic, cheetahs that stray outside of the designated region are more likely to be killed by humans or dogs or starve to death. According to some scientists, there is currently no chance for cheetah populations to roam freely. They went on to say that cheetahs in India “perished for a cause” and that the pressure exerted by humans has only gotten stronger in the seventy years since the extinction of the species.