What delayed the introduction of the African cheetah to Indian reservations?
Aside from the many tragedies caused by the second wave of Covid-19 in India, another victim appears to be the ambitious wildlife project to introduce African cheetahs to the Kuno Palpur reserve in Madhya Pradesh. Originally scheduled for August 15, this project has been delayed for at least three months. A decision to postpone the arrival of the big cats was taken at a meeting of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) in Delhi recently.
Until mid-April, the Madhya Pradesh forestry department had been working overtime to bring African cheetahs to Kuno Palpur by August 15. A success on this front would have been a feather in the cap of the state forestry department. Dr Vincent van der Merve, Cheetah meta-population coordinator of the Endangered Wildlife Trust in South Africa, visited Kuno Palpur at the end of April with Dr YV Jhala of the Wildlife Institute of India (WII). The expert studied the habitat and found it suitable for the introduction of African cheetahs.
While the exact number of cheetahs to import from South Africa has not been decided, MP wildlife officials are keen that at least 8 specimens – including 5 males and 3 females – be introduced. A six square kilometer enclosure is to be set up in Kuno. The animals would be released in this enclosure for the moment. Later, the males would be released into the wild before the females. While the cheetahs that will come to India will be donated by the South African group, the transportation costs are the responsibility of India. A budget of Rs 14 crore has been allocated for this purpose.
After the South African expert’s field visit, a meeting was called by the NTCA on April 30, during which it was decided to delay the arrival of the cheetahs by a few months due to the pandemic. Officials felt that a visit to South Africa and then transporting the animals to India and transporting them to the reserve by road during the pandemic would be problematic.
According to the new schedule prepared by the NTCA, the cheetahs will be brought to India by November. According to the schedule, the forest department of the MP has been asked to complete the preliminary fencing work to create the enclosure by August, while all CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Species of Fauna and Species) clearances have been granted. endangered wild flora), import reserve letters and personalized permits must be prepared by July. Specimens to be brought to India must be captured by October.
Kuno Palpur Reserve, a 749 square kilometer national park, was chosen as the first cheetah introduction site. Subsequently, other sites in MP and Rajasthan which have shown potential can be added.
Designed in 2009, the plan to introduce the African cheetah to India was put on hold after the Supreme Court suspended the plan. After the case was reconsidered, the introduction of Cheetah was authorized by the Supreme Court in January 2020. A three-member committee, including wildlife expert MK Ranjitsinh, DG Wildlife Institute of India, Dhananjai Mohan and DIG Wildlife was appointed by the Supreme Court to oversee the introduction of the African cheetah to India.
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