The Supreme Court recently allowed the Centre to introduce the African cheetah to a suitable habitat in India.
National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) had filed an application seeking permission for the introduction of the African cheetah from Namibia.
SC has set up a three-member committee to guide the NTCA in taking a decision on the issue.
Cheetah – Acinonyx jubatus
It inhabits a variety of mostly arid habitats like dry forests, scrub forests, and savannahs.
– Cheetah suffered a substantial decline in its historic range in the 20th century due to habitat loss, poaching for the illegal pet trade, and conflict with humans.
– Asiatic cheetah (A. j. venaticus) – This subspecies is confined to Iran, and is the only surviving cheetah population in Asia.
– Cheetah became extinct in India around 1947.
‘Reintroduction’ of a species means releasing it in an area where it is capable of surviving.(or where it had survived earlier)
Reintroductions of large carnivores has been recognised as a strategy to conserve threatened species and restore ecosystem functions.
In the umbrella-approach of conservation, multiple species in a forest is protected in the name of a flagship species .
Example – Tiger reserves .
Corbett – barking deer, spotted deer, sambar, chinkara.
Initial efforts for re-introduction
- During the early 2000s, Indian scientists from the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad, proposed a plan to clone Asiatic cheetahs obtained from Iran.
- India requested Iran to transport one live pair to India OR to allow them to collect some live cells for cloning.
- Iran said NO
- In 2009, plan to introduce African cheetah was proposed.
- Wildlife geneticist said that the Asian and African cheetahs were genetically very similar.
- Namibia offered to help India in the matter.
- 2010 – plan was ready
- 2011- Centre approved Rs 50 crore for the programme.
SC judgement – Plans fail
- The matter of Cheetah reintroduction came up before the Supreme Court during a hearing on shifting a few lions from Gujarat to Kuno-Palpur wildlife sanctuary, Madhya Pradesh, which was also one of the sites identified for releasing cheetahs.
- In May 2012, the court stayed the cheetah plan, and in April 2013, it ordered translocation of lions from Gujarat while quashing the plan for introducing African cheetahs to Kuno- Palpur.
Potential locations and issues
1. Kuno national Park – While the park has spotted deer and feral cattle in good numbers, there is barely any presence of the four-horned antelope, chinkara or blackbuck – all potential prey for the cheetah. Also less grassland and more woodland.
2. Desert national park – Great indian bustard is a potential prey for the cheetah.
3. Nauradehi in Madhya Pradesh
• Indigenous vs. Exotic!
• Wolves are the keystone species here and would have to compete with cheetahs.
• Approx cost of the cheetah project was Rs 300 crore for 1 year in 2010 proposal.
• 21 species that merit conservation, received a total allocation of Rs 497 crore between 2017-18 and 2019-20. (Rs 166 crore a year)
• Rs 3.87 crore for a snow leopard recovery programme in Ladakh.
- Big question – Why introduce an exotic replacement for an extinct species to save indigenous species?
- Can India’s meagre conservation resources afford to splurge on hosting a few imported animals? sponsor?
- Even if a few African cheetahs survive, as they well might inside an enclosure and supplied with prey, what conservation purpose will they serve?
- What future will they have once out in the open in a country teeming with people, livestock and feral dogs?