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Project Cheetah: NTCA constitutes Cheetah Project Steering Committee

Three adult and three cubs have died since launch of ambitious inter-continental translocation project

Project Cheetah: NTCA constitutes Cheetah Project Steering Committee

Photo for representational purpose only.

Tribune Web Desk

Vibha Sharma

Chandigarh, May 26

Amid criticism--including from a section of experts--over its implementation, the Centre has now appointed a new steering committee of national and international experts to oversee and monitor the ambitious Project Cheetah in India.

Constituted by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), the Cheetah Project Steering Committee would review, progress, monitor and advise on the Cheetah introduction to the Madhya Pradesh Forest Department and NTCA, according to an official statement.

Apart from Rajesh Gopal, Secretary General, Global Tiger Forum, and Indian experts and officials, the panel also includes African experts like Adrian Tordiffe, veterinary wildlife specialist from the University of Pretoria (South Africa), Laurie Marker from Namibia, Andrew John Fraser from South Africa, and Vincent van dan Merwe (manager of the Cheetah Metapopulation Project) in South Africa

Twenty cheetahs from two African nations—South Africa and Namibia—were brought to India under the inter-continental translocation programme to revive their population, seven decades after they went extinct in the country.

While eight Namibian cheetahs were released in the Kuno National Park in the Sheopur district of Madhya Pradesh in September last year, thesecond batch of 12 South African cheetahs arrived in India in February.

Cheetah deaths

The ambitious project has suffered several setbacks since its implementation.

On Tuesday, one of the four cubs of Jwala, a cheetahfrom Namibia, died due to “extreme weather conditions and dehydration”.

On Thursday, Jwala's two more cubs died. Out of the four born to Jwala, only one is surviving now.

With the temperatures hitting 46-47 degrees Celsius at Kuno, officials say the teams rescued the three cubs, however, despite their best efforts two cubs could not be saved. Meanwhile, the remaining cub continues to be in intensive treatment.

Forest officials say they are in regular touch with Namibian and South African experts and doctors, however, the cubs were very weak, underweight and highly dehydrated.

Afact, however, also is that of the 20 cheetahs brought to India from Africa in the world’s first intercontinental translocation project, three have died.

Criticism of the project

Earlier in May, a female cheetah, Daksha from South Africa, died following a “violent interaction” with two male cheetahs, possibly during mating.

Another cheetah, Uday, died due to illness in April.

In March, Namibian cheetah Sasha died of kidney complications. Sasha is said to have contracted the ailment during captivity in Namibia and had been unwell since arriving at Kuno, according to reports.

The criticism of the project started even before the first batch arrived with a section of experts raising doubts about the capability of the new guests settling in their new environment amid expected predator pressure and adverse climatic conditions.

While cheetahs can breed quite rapidly under good conditions, but in the reserves with high levels of leopard/other predator populations, inter-species competition was expected. There were also apprehensions about cubs born in India surviving the high temperatures and competing predators.

Given that the three adult cheetahs died in captivity even before they were released, experts also criticized attempts to mate in captivity.

Critics say that the project was hurried, "based on poor science and research and without properpreparations".Theproject was “hurried to meet deadlines and carried out without adequate peer review”, they also claimed.

The prolonged captivity, first in Africa and then in India, was contrary to the basic requirements of a big cat to lead a free-ranging life, they said

Choosing Kuno

The Supreme Court appointed panel had surveyed 10 sites between 2010 and 2012 to finalise the region where cheetahs could be introduced.

The selection was made on the basis of the guidelines of the International Union for Conservation of Nature for reintroductions that consider species viability according to demography, genetics and socio-economics of conflict and livelihoods.

Task of Task Force

Apart from reviewing the progress, monitoring and advising, and other mandates, the task force will suggest opening of the Cheetah habitat for eco-tourism and suggest regulations in this regard.

During the two years that it will be in force, the committee will also give suggestions on community interface and for their involvement in the project activities.

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