South African Cheetahs Arrive to Start New Lives in India

Continuing New Delhi’s efforts to reestablish the variety of the feline population, a group of 12 cheetahs was brought from South Africa last week and put into quarantine enclosures in the Kuno National Park in the central state of Madhya Pradesh.

The big cats arrived after a 10-hour flight from Johannesburg. They will join eight brought from Namibia last year. The South African cheetahs are between 18 months and four years of age.

“All of them are calm and have taken a full meal,” Yadvendradev Jhala of the Wildlife Institute of India told RFI.

The intercontinental movement of the creatures, first from Namibia and now from South Africa, is part of India’s ambitious restoration initiative called ‘Project Cheetah’.

The Indian government hopes 50 cheetahs will be brought from African countries to various national parks over the next five years.

The last cheetah in the country reportedly died in 1947 in Koriya district in the central state of Chhattisgarh mainly due to over-hunting and habitat loss. The species was declared extinct in 1952.

“Another milestone for Project Cheetah. India has shown an example to the world by proving that an ecological wrong can be balanced by an action that is in ecological harmony,” said environment minister Bhupender Yadav, before releasing the cheetahs into their enclosures.

“The cheetah reintroduction into India is a bold step in terms of conservation and one that is desperately needed if we are to have any chance of saving this species from extinction,” tweeted Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari.

Before the arrival of the felines, expert teams from Namibia and South Africa – the countries with the largest cheetah populations in the world – trained Indian forest officers and wildlife experts on handling, breeding, rehabilitation, medical treatment and conservation of the animals.

Differences in opinion on transfer

However, the ambitious project has come under criticism with eight leading wildlife scientists and carnivore ecologists arguing that introducing African cheetahs in India is an ill-advised conservation attempt.

In an article published in the review Nature Ecology and Evolution, they say that not enough consultation had been done with experts as the project overestimates cheetah carrying capacity in KNP by not incorporating new research on cheetah home ranges and densities.

“The plan ignores crucial scientific findings from important recent demographic studies on free-ranging cheetahs,” said ecologist Arjun Gopalaswamy.

“This could prove to be a costly mistake because the cheetah carrying capacities assumed in the plan rely entirely on projections made from a single, likely flawed, density estimate from Namibia from over a decade ago.”

However, backers of the project believe that the reintroduction of cheetahs, despite the challenges, will reinforce both conservation efforts and the local economy.

Another group of scientists, including Adrian Tordiff from the faculty of veterinary science in Pretoria and Yadvendradev Jhala of the Wildlife Institute of India, have supported the experimental reintroduction of cheetahs into India, pointing out that there was sufficient data available.

“In our view, the available data and arguments that we have laid out sufficiently support the experimental reintroduction of cheetahs into India, and we look forward to assessing the outcome of the project over time,” the scientists wrote.

There are reportedly fewer than 8,000 African cheetahs living in the wild and there may be fewer than 50 Asian cheetahs left in the world, say conservationists.

Source : RFI

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