Action Plan Cheetah finally underway - GulfToday

Action Plan Cheetah finally underway

Meena Janardhan

Writer/Editor/Consultant. She has over 25 years of experience in the fields of environmental journalism and publishing.

Writer/Editor/Consultant. She has over 25 years of experience in the fields of environmental journalism and publishing.

Tiger

Illustrative image.

Indian Environment Minister Bhupendra Singh has announced that the Environment Ministry will introduce 50 cheetahs into Indian forests over the next five years, 70 years after they went extinct. He unveiled a plan for the introduction of Cheetah in India at the 19th meeting of the National Tiger Conservation Authority held recently.

According to India Today, the ambitious wildlife project to introduce African Cheetahs into the Kuno Palpur reserve in Madhya Pradesh was originally slated for August 15. However, this project was delayed due to the ongoing pandemic by at least three months. A decision to defer the arrival of the big cats was taken at a meeting of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) in Delhi in May 2021.

The ‘Action Plan for Introduction of Cheetah in India’, released by the environment ministry during the 19th meeting of National Tiger Conservation Authority last week, a cohort of around 12 to 14 cheetahs will be imported from South Africa or Namibia and each of them will be fitted with a satellite-GPS-very high frequency radio-collar.

As per the action plan, this cohort of young cheetahs are ideal for reintroduction from Namibia or South Africa as a founder stock during the first year. India is very keen on the protection and conservation of seven major big cats, including the cheetah.

The country’s last spotted cheetah died in Chhattisgarh in 1947 and it was declared extinct in the country in 1952. The Supreme Court had earlier given its approval to introduce African cheetahs to suitable habitats in India on an experimental basis.

The plans to introduce African Cheetahs into the Indian environment had gone into limbo in 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic and successive lockdowns. The team and preparations are ready to take up translocation after the third wave recedes, the officials added. “The animals’ lineage and condition shall be checked in the host country to ensure that they are not from an excessively inbred stock and are in the ideal age group, so as to conform to the needs of a founding population,” said the over 300-page plan.

Among the 10 surveyed sites in five central Indian States, the Kuno Palpur National Park (KNP) in Madhya Pradesh was rated high on the priority list for the introduction of a cheetah because of its suitable habitat and adequate prey base. A team from the Wildlife Institute of India, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, doctors and veterinarians from the Kuna national park along with the staff had to go to Savannah for training. The central government, along with the ministry of environment and the Cheetah Task Force, will create a formal framework to collaborate with the governments of Namibia and/or South Africa, through the Ministry of External Affairs.

Considered among the top predators, with African cheetah relocation, the government aims to restore the threatened ecosystem and conserve the species in India. Meanwhile, the environment minister also talked about the fifth cycle of the All India Tiger Estimation which is currently underway. The minister said that we have 51 Tiger Reserves in the country and efforts are being made to bring more areas under the Tiger Reserve network. The tiger reserves are not just for tigers because more than 35 rivers originate from these areas, which are crucial for water security.

The union minister also released a Water Atlas, mapping all the water bodies in the tiger-bearing areas of India. Landscape wise information has been outlined in this water atlas, which includes, the Shivalik Hills and Gangetic plain landscape, Central Indian Landscape and Eastern Ghats, Western Ghats landscape, North Eastern Hills and Brahmaputra flood plains and Sundarbans.

‘Project Cheetah’ is also expected to lead to ecosystem restoration activities in cheetah conservation areas. These, the plan says, will help the landscape sequester more carbon and contribute to India’s climate change mitigation goals. The cats are also to be a source of ecotourism, and thus livelihood generation, for the local community.

Yet another objective is to use the African cheetah as a “charismatic flagship and umbrella species to garner resources for restoring open forest and savannah systems that will benefit biodiversity and ecosystem services from these ecosystems”.

If all goes well, by 2026, around 50 African cheetahs are expected to roam India’s grasslands. “The project is not only about the charismatic cheetah in itself, but more for its role to restore the balance within ecosystems it inhabited”, the plan states.

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