India’s ambitious project Cheetah on Sunday completed one year after the first batch of eight Namibian cheetahs was released in Madhya Pradesh’s Kuno National Park (KNP) by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his birthday on September 17, 2022.
Subsequently, twelve cheetahs from South Africa were also translocated and released in Kuno National Park in February 2023.
These cheetahs represent a big feather in India’s cap for restoring natural treasures. The entire project was implemented under the meticulous supervision of the expert team consisting of Government officials, Scientists, Wildlife Biologists and Veterinarians belonging to Namibia, South Africa and India, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change stated.
Out of the above 6 criteria given in the action plan for assessing the short-term success, the project has already met four criteria namely: 50 per cent survival of introduced cheetahs, the establishment of home ranges, the birth of cubs in Kuno and the project has contributed revenue to the local communities directly through the engagement of cheetah trackers and indirectly by way of appreciation of land value in the surrounding areas of Kuno, it stated.
The Ministry further stated “The challenging inter-continental, wild to wild, Cheetah translocation by air, from Namibia and South Africa to India is the first ever such effort undertaken in the world to rectify the ecologically wrong done in the past. Normally intercontinental long-distance cheetah translocations have an inherent risk of mortalities, however, 8 Cheetahs from Namibia and 12 Cheetahs from South Africa were successfully translocated to the Kuno National Park without any mortality.”
Meanwhile, most of the Cheetahs are adapting well to the Indian conditions and showing normal qualities like hunting, exploring the landscape, protecting their kill, avoiding/chasing other carnivores like leopards and hyenas, establishing their own territory, internecine fights, courtship and mating and no negative interactions with human beings.
One female Cheetah has given birth to cubs on the Indian soil after 75 years. One surviving cub is now 6 months old and doing well, showing a normal growth pattern. So far no cheetah has died due to unnatural causes like poaching, hunting, snaring, accident, poisoning, and retaliatory killing. This has been possible due to huge community support from the local villages, it said.
Project Cheetah has mobilized the local community and provided them with livelihood options through direct and indirect employment. The community support is overwhelming. Being a long-term project, it is planned to bring 12-14 cheetahs from South Africa/Namibia/ other African Countries, annually for the next 5 years and after that, as and when required.
“Other alternative sites for cheetah introductions are being prepared at Gandhi Sagar Wildlife Sanctuary and also at Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary. Quarantine and acclimatization enclosures are under construction at Gandhi Sagar WLS and the site is expected to be ready by the year end. After evaluation of the site, the next batch of cheetahs will be planned to be brought to Gandhi Sagar WLS. Conservation breeding of Cheetah Centre, Cheetah Research Centre, Interpretation Centre, Cheetah Management Training Centre and Cheetah Safari are being planned,” it said.
The two Namibian female cheetah, with wild origin but reared in captivity, are showing signs of wild behaviour due to re-wilding efforts. After some more evaluation and monitoring, they may be released in the wild.
It is a challenging project and the early indications are encouraging. The reintroduction of cheetahs will bring much-needed focus to the conservation of the country’s dry grasslands and will also generate job opportunities for local communities.
The success of this project will open up possibilities for rewilding initiatives worldwide. It stands as a unique endeavour, being one of the few projects to reintroduce a lost species through intercontinental efforts.
In order to commemorate one year of successful implementation of Project Cheetah in India, an event was organized today at Sesaipura Forest Complex, Kuno National Park, Madhya Pradesh. The program was attended by officials from the Ministry of Environment and Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), NTCA and Madhya Pradesh Forest Department.
“At the onset, the dignitaries visited the walk-through exhibition and interacted with Cheetah Mitras and further encouraged them for their commendable efforts in awareness campaigns, protection and intelligence gathering for cheetah conservation during the past one year. The event was inaugurated with the lighting of lamps by the dignitaries,” the Ministry said.
Subsequently, in their addresses by PCCF and Head of Forest Forces, Additional Chief Secretary (Forest), Government of Madhya Pradesh; they briefed about the achievements of Project Cheetah during the last one year in terms of monitoring of cheetah and other wildlife in Kuno National Park, efforts being taken up for management of conflict, livelihood opportunities and community engagement to foster greater tolerance.
They also highlighted formidable challenges likely to be faced by the Project in the near future till the cheetah population establishes its territories.
Project Cheetah has achieved most of the benchmark and criteria set for the first year and is on the right track. There has been great learning so far which is helping in the successful implementation of the Project. The PCCF (Wildlife) and CWLW, Madhya Pradesh conveyed a vote of thanks to all the stakeholders and participants. (ANI)