Science-Wise: 17 African Cheetahs Chase Survival, Questions Loom Over Biggest Wildlife Translocation

May 17, 2023 - 16:52
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t was not very long ago that India welcomed the first batch of African cheetahs with much fanfare. For the first time in almost 70 years, the country of 1.4 billion was glued to the screens to watch eight of these amazingly fast yet extremely vulnerable felines in Madhya Pradesh’s Kuno National Park.

But just within a year of this historic translocation, three of the big cats have died — one due to pre-existing kidney ailment and the other because of a cardio-pulmonary failure. The latest death was attributed to a violent interaction between the cheetahs during courtship while they were still within the enclosures.

COULD THE DEATHS HAVE BEEN AVOIDED?

Questions now loom large over one of the world’s biggest such translocation projects, as wildlife conservationists flag concerns. Could these deaths have been avoided? Are the African animals struggling to adapt to the new environment? Is there adequate habitat available?

“None of these deaths were avoidable. Which wildlife scientist in this world would let animals die if they knew they could avert it?” remarks Dr Qamar Qureshi, lead scientist from Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun. “Such accidents happen. We had no inkling, so we went ahead and took the chance. But it can be difficult to predict how animals behave. There has been a lot of learning. Our plan is also adaptive and we will make changes as and when situations arise," he says, referring to the recent death of a female cheetah.

A special group of wildlife experts from India and South Africa constituted by National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) visited Kuno on April 30 to review the project and advised that two enclosures be opened for animals to interact.

Several months after the big cats were airlifted from Namibia and South Africa, most of them still remain confined to six square kilometre enclosures. Of the total 17 adult cheetahs and (four cubs), only four have been released, who will be joined by another five cats before the monsoon onset. This is quite contrary to the Cheetah Action Plan according to which animals were to be released within a few weeks to a month.

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