It was in 1957 that the last cheetah in India died by drowning in a lake in Hyderabad after the species was mindlessly hunted and then poached for centuries in the national habitat that was natural for the Asiatic breed. Now, in a very exciting turn of events, after Iran refused to share some of its cheetahs and the proposal of reintroduction of the animal in Indian jungles during the governments of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh did not bear fruit, Namibia sent eight African cheetahs to India today as a part of Project Cheetah, the world’s first inter-continental large wild carnivore translocation project.
Project Cheetah is expected to boost ecotourism in the region. Now that the authorities have brought the cheetahs to their new home in India, they need to work towards protecting the wildlife from the main threat that once wiped the cheetah population off the face of India: humans.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi released eight cheetahs from Namibia at the Kuno National Park, Madhya Pradesh today.
Prasar Bharati News Services & Digital Platform tweeted: "Today, 17 September… India celebrated Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 72nd birthday, and the PM released the Namibian cheetahs into the Kuno National Park’s designated enclosure."
"A special bird touches down in the Land of the Brave to carry goodwill ambassadors to the Land of the Tiger," tweeted the Indian embassy in Namibia.
The country was eagerly waiting to welcome the African cheetahs, flown in on a special cargo flight for 10 hours from Namibia to Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh. From Gwalior, the eight cheetahs were flown by two Indian Air Force choppers to Palpur, near Kuno National Park.
How will the cheetah be rehabilitated in India?
The cheetahs have been released into a quarantine enclosure at the park, which is now the new home to these eight feline newcomers. This reintroduction project is an effort to revitalise and diversify Indian wildlife and cheetah habitat.
The national park, first established in 1981 as a wildlife sanctuary, and later in 2018 as a national park, is a part of the Khathiar-Gir dry deciduous forests ecoregion.
Why was Kuno National Park chosen for the reintroduction of the cheetah?
Kuno’s geography consists of vast grasslands, open forest patches and hills, perfect for the big cats. Just like tigers have helped the forest ecosystem, we are hopeful that the cheetahs will help revitalise the open grassland ecosystem, which is facing the threat of extinction and also the improved protection of various species that are the cheetah’s natural prey. For this project, another 413 sq km was added to the national park.
Kuno-Palpur National Park was found to be the most suitable site on account of its area, shape and vegetation. The KNU is also close to Sal forest in Koriya, the place where Asiatic cheetahs were last seen in the wild in Chhattisgarh.
A decade ago several sites were considered for the project across Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, and UP. Between 2010 and 2012, experts considered 10 sites for the project in the aforementioned states, reported India Today. The last of the big cats was killed around 70 years ago in India. The cheetahs were declared extinct in the country in 1952.
Based on the assessments of the Wildlife Institute of India and Wildlife Trust of India, the Kuno National Park was found suitable for the Cheetahs due to its climatic condition, predator population and prey densities.
The KNU lies in the Vindhyan Hills of Central India. A rare jungle and an oasis nestled between rocky and unforgiving landscape, the national park is full of ancient forts and structures which have now been reclaimed by the forest. The park derives its name from the Kuno river which passes through it.
Some of the grasslands in Kuno National Park are bigger than most at Kanha or Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve. The area which was declared a National Park started off as a sanctuary of about 350 sq km.
Between 1998 to 2003, 24 villages were relocated outside the sanctuary and about 6258 ha was made available. The move was taken as the area was identified as the most suitable location for the reintroduction of the Asiatic lion.
Where is Kuno National Park?
Kuno National Park is in Saran Aharwani in Madhya Pradesh
How many African cheetahs were brought to India?
Eight African cheetahs were reintroduced in India.
What is Project Cheetah?
'Project Cheetah' is the first inter-continental large wild carnivore translocation project in the world. Under this project, eight African cheetahs were brought to India.
The cheetahs, five females and three males, aged between 4 to 6 years of age, now share the park with the Indian leopard, jungle cat, sloth bear, dhole, Indian wolf, golden jackal, striped hyena and Bengal fox. Their prey base includes ungulates like chital, Sambar deer, nilgai, four-horned antelope, chinkara, blackbuck and wild boar. One can’t deny the concerns about the well-being of the cheetahs in the wild where there are apex predators like the leopard and wolves. But one can only hope that nature will play itself out and the cheetahs will be able to thrive in Kuno. One can hope for this project to work.