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PoliticsIndiaCheetahs prey again: Progress of Namibian duo in Indian jungle

Cheetahs prey again: Progress of Namibian duo in Indian jungle

The preying by these Namibian cheetahs after they arrived from Namibia in Kuno after a flight of 8,000 km over the Indian Ocean signifies acclimatisation

The two cheetah brothers brought from Namibia and rehabilitated in Kuno National Park in India — Freddy and Alton — made another successful kill this evening, once again killing a chital (Indian spotted deer), officials said today. This is three days after the predators’ first prey on the evening of 6 November (Sunday). The Indian Forest Service of is keenly monitoring the progress of the cheetahs, a species that went extinct from the country more than seven decades ago due to mindless hunting by human beings primarily for sporting fun.

The preying by these Namibian cheetahs after they arrived from Namibia in Kuno after a flight of 8,000 km over the Indian Ocean signifies acclimatisation with the local environment. It demonstrates that the cheetah project worth Rs 96 crore is on the track.

A normal cheetah kills once every two or three days. After Freddy and Alton hunted the cheetah on 6 November, officials waited to see if they would repeat the behaviour, and they did. “Given that they kill every two or three days, we were expecting them to make another kill soon. The surveillance team saw them chasing deer last evening,” a forest official told The Indian Express, requesting anonymity.

A surveillance team that monitors the cheetah brothers every day to ensure their safety noticed the kill this morning. These officials track wild animals in Kuno park using very high frequency (VHF) satellite collars fitted around the necks of conserved animals in the forest.

officials said that Freddy and Alton ended up with about 25-30 kg of meat from the last chital that they killed. This appetite and hunting behaviour suggests the cheetahs are thriving and that the first prey was not a fluke. They have lost no muscle strength in their long journey and quarantine, an official said.

Why did the cheetahs take so long for the first kill?

This project to reintroduce cheetahs in the Indian wild is the first experiment of the type in the world, involving the transfer of a large carnivore from one continent to another. After the cheetahs reached India on 17 September, they were kept in quarantine bomas (enclosures) and fed buffalo meat to prevent infection from other animals.

Out of the eight imported cheetahs, Freddie and Elton were the first to be released to roam around in a larger enclosure inside the Kuno jungle on 5 November. The department is releasing the cheetahs in a phased manner.

The next cheetah to be released into the larger enclosure will be another male, Oban. officials said the release was likely within a week.

The large enclosures comprise nine interconnected compartments spread over an area of ​​5 sq km. the forest department has made separate compartments so that a given animal can be easily removed if needed. The team of Dr Laurie Marker, the founder and executive director of the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) in Namibia, from whose centre the animals were brought to India, had suggested that each enclosure should have around 40 animals as prey. Forest officials in Kuno say they will ensure an optimal hunting base as prescribed.

The other five cheetahs are Sasha, Sia, Savannah, Tbilisi and Asha. Brothers Freddie and Elton, being familiar with each other, are put together. So will Savannah and Sasha be. The rest will be in separate compartments.

Asha, whom Prime Minister Narendra Modi named, looks pregnant and will be transferred only after more clarity on her condition. The lifespan of male cheetahs is between 4.5 years and 5.5 years while that of five female cheetahs is between two and five years.

After the cheetahs have adapted well to larger enclosures, they will be released into the 748 sq km Kuno National Park. While the enclosure has a high prey base, it does not have other large predators. Its 11.7 km peripheral fence contains an electric charge to keep other animals at bay.

Cheetahs are known to coexist with leopards in Namibia, but enclosures have been kept leopard-free to make guest animals feel safe in their new habitat. Also, leopards being the stronger of the two species of big cats, would pose a life threat to the imported cheetahs that are better in speed but may be caught unawares by leopards atop trees.

Already, cheetahs are an endangered species worldwide.

Once the cheetahs move into the national park, “they will have to survive with about 150 leopards,” said an official.

Why was Kuno selected?

Six sites that were assessed for Asiatic lion relocation in 2010 were re-evaluated in 2020 — Mukundra Hills Tiger Reserve and Shergarh Wildlife Sanctuary, both in Rajasthan, and Gandhi Sagar Wildlife Sanctuary, Kuno National Park, Madhav National Park and Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh.

The Kuno jungle was found ready to receive the cheetahs as it was bred for the Asiatic lion. Both the animals share the same habitat — semi-arid grasslands and forests that are spread across Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.

The government may need to invest more to

  • check the pressure of human cohabitation in Kuno by relocating people from villages
  • upgrade the sanctuary
  • reduce infrastructure (roads and railways) and
  • increase the hunting area and choices for the cheetahs by relocating blackbucks, chitals, chinkaras and wild boars among other animals.

Will any other sites in India house cheetahs?

This ambitious reintroduction project aims to establish a cheetah metapopulation in India, nearly 75 years after the animal was last killed in 1947. Cheetahs were declared extinct in India in 1952.

After bringing these eight cheetahs from Namibia, forest officials of are now trying to accommodate more in the Nauradehi Forest Sanctuary in Sagar and Gandhi Sagar Sanctuary in Mandsaur. Forest officials sent a proposal to the state government two days ago and sought permission to make necessary arrangements.

According to Chief Wildlife Warden JS Chauhan, the government sent the proposal on the basis of the fact that the Kuno-Palpur National Park has a carrying capacity of only 25 cheetahs while the union government is trying to bring 12 of these animals from South Africa. When those 12 cheetahs are brought in, the total population in Kuno will be 20. Once the animals start mating and babies are born to them, the cheetah population will exceed the carrying capacity of Kuno-Palpur.

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