The Return of the Cheetah to Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary
70 years after the cheetah went extinct, the Indian government plans the return of the cheetah to Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary.
On Wednesday, a memorandum of understanding was signed by Namibia and India to reinstate the African cheetah in India (MoU). In addition, cooperation on wildlife conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity is a key element of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which Union Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF) Bhupender Yadav and Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Namibia Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah signed in New Delhi.
The Asiatic cheetah, a highly endangered species that only exists in Iran, was officially declared extinct in India in 1952. Although the cheetah was known to have existed in India in 1947, Maharaja Ramanuj Pratab Singh Deo of l Surguja State shot the three males who were still alive in what is now Guru Ghasidas National Park in Chhattisgarh.
What strategy does the government have for introducing cheetahs to India?
The Indian government has been working to bring cheetahs back to India since the 1960s and 1970s, but in the past decade these initiatives have gained momentum. As the only country had a surviving population of the species at the time, the government made an effort to import cheetahs from Iran. Tehran, however, had gotten worse in part because of the extremely low number of populations of the species, all of which were in the wild.
The project was advertised as reintroducing “India’s only extinct large mammal”, while Jairam Ramesh was environment minister in September 2009, which helped the plans gain support. There were rumors that the cheetahs might arrive at this time from the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) in Namibia or other South African captive institutions.
What were the obstacles to the approval of this plan?
Along with these developments, the government’s Asiatic lion reintroduction project, a project that aims to bring back the last wild population of Asiatic lion found in the Gir Forest National Park in Gujarat, was also underway. An effort to establish a new population of Asiatic lions has been carried out at Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh. But the Gujarat state administration fiercely opposed the planned transfer for a number of reasons, one of which was that the lions were symbols of the state.
When the dispute was taken to the Supreme Court, it went off the rails in April 2013. The Supreme Court of India said in its ruling that the MoEF’s choice to first introduce African cheetahs to Kuno and then lions cheetahs was “at this stage, in our view, arbitrary and unlawful and manifestly contrary to statutory provisions under the Wildlife Protection Act. MoEF’s directive to bring African cheetahs to Kuno is revoked as unconstitutional to the One of the reasons for the cancellation was the highest court’s concerns about using an alien species while ignoring the needs of native species.
However, the Indian government remained adamant about going ahead with its plan. In order to restore the cheetahs in Kuno, the government’s National Tiger Conservation Authority petitioned the court in 2016 with a request for review. The government said the cheetahs would help preserve other species, such as grassland ones, in the sanctuary. The court cases provided insight into the government’s goals, which included the potential relocation of African cheetahs to other national parks and reserves across the country.
What are the stakes of the idea?
The government’s justifications for the project, particularly from a conservation perspective, are unconvincing, according to wildlife biologist and conservation expert Ravi Chellam. He cites a government goal “that allows the cheetah to perform its functional job as a top predator” as an example.
“Even based on their best projections, only a maximum of 21 cheetahs are expected in the next 15 years, which is a very long time. There aren’t enough of them to make a significant impact. More importantly, the Asiatic lions are without no doubt higher up the food chain because they are a top predator.They would do the ecological work much better, and that would also ensure their relocation to Kuno and help comply with the Supreme Court’s 2013 executive order.Chellam said
One of the government’s stated goals is “to use the cheetah as a charismatic flagship and umbrella species to garner resources for the restoration of open forest and savannah systems that will benefit the biodiversity and ecosystem services of these ecosystems” , which has drawn particular criticism from wildlife experts and conservationists.