Of the 20 translocated Cheetahs from South Africa and Namibia, five mortalities of adult individuals have been reported from Kuno National Park, Madhya Pradesh, till date. As per the preliminary analysis by National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), the apex body entrusted with the implementation of Project Cheetah, all mortalities are due to natural causes. There are reports in the media attributing these Cheetah deaths to other reasons including their radio collars etc. Such reports are not based on any scientific evidence but are speculation and hearsay.
Project Cheetah is yet to complete a year and it will be premature to conclude the outcome in terms of success and failure, since Cheetah reintroduction is a long-term project. In the last 10 months, all stakeholders involved in this project have gained valuable insights in Cheetah management, monitoring and protection. There is optimism that the project will succeed in the long run and there is no reason to speculate at this juncture.
Efforts underway to conserve the reintroduced Cheetah population
For investigating the cause of Cheetah deaths, consultation with international cheetah experts/ veterinary doctors from South Africa and Namibia is being done on a regular basis. Further, the existing monitoring protocols, protection status, managerial inputs, veterinary facilities, training and capacity-building aspects are being reviewed by independent national experts. The Cheetah Project Steering Committee is closely monitoring the project and has expressed satisfaction over its implementation so far.
Further, steps like the establishment of Cheetah Research Center with facilities for rescue, rehabilitation, capacity building, interpretation; bringing additional forest area under the administrative control of Kuno National Park for landscape level management; providing additional frontline staff; establishing Cheetah Protection Force; and creation of a second home for Cheetahs in Gandhi Sagar Wildlife Sanctuary, Madhya Pradesh have been envisaged.
Global experience with Cheetah translocation to New Habitats
Cheetah has been brought back to India after seven decades and a project of such a stature is bound to undergo ups and downs. Global experience particularly from South Africa suggests that in the initial phase of the reintroduction of Cheetah in African countries has resulted in more than 50% mortality of introduced Cheetahs. The mortality of Cheetah may happen due to intra-species fights, diseases, and accidents before release and post-release. Mortalities might also result from injury caused during the hunting of prey, poaching, road hits, poisoning and predatory attack by other predators etc. Considering all these eventualities the action plan has made provision for annual supplementation of initial founder population annually for managing the demographic and genetic composition of the reintroduced population.
The Government of India has launched an ambitious project on bringing back Cheetah to India. The Project Cheetah is being implemented by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), a statutory body under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) in collaboration with the Madhya Pradesh Forest Department, Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and Cheetah experts from Namibia and South Africa. The project implementation is being done as per the ‘Action plan for Introduction in India’ and a Steering Committee comprising of eminent experts/ officials involved in the first-ever successful tiger reintroduction in Sariska and Panna Tiger Reserve, to oversee the project has also been constituted.
Under Project Cheetah, a total of 20 radio-collared Cheetahs were brought from Namibia and South Africa to Kuno National Park, Madhya Pradesh, in a first-ever transcontinental wild to wild translocation. After the mandatory quarantine period, all Cheetahs were shifted to larger acclimatization enclosures. Currently, 11 Cheetahs are under free-ranging condition and 5 animals, including a cub born on Indian soil, are within quarantine enclosures. Each of the free-ranging Cheetahs is being monitored round the clock by a dedicated monitoring team.
Government of India has deployed a dedicated NTCA team of officials to work in close coordination with the field officials at the Kuno National Park. This team is engaged for analyzing real-time field data collated by the field monitoring teams for deciding upon various management aspects including health and related interventions required to be in place for better management.