- Sotik Biswas
- BBC correspondent in India
If all goes well, eight cheetahs – five males and three females – will travel 8,405 kilometers from South Africa to their new home in India’s vast national park this November.
Thus, the fastest land animal in the world will return to India, after it became extinct more than half a century ago.
Cheetahs are a unique species of big cats within the feline family, which are characterized by being fixed-clawed animals, and all other types of cheetahs have become extinct from the earth. And because of its tremendous speed in hunting, it is sometimes called in Arabic “Al-Nimr Al-Hunter”.
“We finally have the resources and natural habitats to reintroduce the cheetah,” says Yadvindradev Jhala, dean of the Wildlife Institute of India and one of the experts in charge of the effort. preserve its kind.
With its black-spotted, tear-like skin, the Cheetah is an “elegant” animal that runs across meadows at speeds of up to 112 kilometers per hour to pounce on its prey. It is a wonderfully runner animal, with remarkable abilities to stop quickly, dodge, maneuver and jump on its way to its target; kill the prey.
Currently, the vast majority of cheetahs, numbering about 7,000 in the world, live in South Africa, Namibia and Botswana.
It has been reported that the endangered cheetahs were last seen in India between 1967-1968, but their numbers had dwindled dramatically by 1990.
Dr Jalla said three sites – a national park and two wildlife sanctuaries – in the states of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan have been identified for cheetahs.
The first of the eight leopards will be placed in the Kono National Park Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh, which is home to large numbers of prey such as antelopes and wild boars.
Wildlife experts also support making the tiger reserve in the Mukundra Hills in Rajasthan a potential home for new leopards.
cheetah in India
The first Cheetah, born and raised in human captivity rather than in the wild, was in India, during the reign of Mughal Emperor Jahangir in the 16th century. It was recorded during his reign that Jahangir’s father, Akbar, had ten thousand Cheetah cheetahs, including about 1,000 in his court.
In the twentieth century, these animals were imported for the purpose of sport. Research has shown that there were at least 230 chita in the wild in India between 1799 and 1968. It is the only large mammal that has become extinct in India since its independence.
Among the reasons that led to the extinction of the cheetah in India, were hunting, decreasing reserves and insufficient availability of prey; From black antelope, deer and hares. During British rule, cheetahs were exterminated after being rewarded for their hunting because they infiltrated villages and preyed on livestock.
India has been making every effort since the fifties of the last century to return this animal to India. Its efforts to import it in the 1970s from Iran, which had about 300 Cheetahs at the time, failed after negotiations with it were interrupted following the overthrow of the Shah.
Re-breeding animals to a new habitat is always a risky process, but it is not uncommon. In 2017, four cheetahs were resettled in Malawi, from which the animals had become extinct in the late 1980s. The number has now increased to 24 animals.
The good news, experts say, is that cheetahs are highly adaptable animals to new environments.
In South Africa, where about 60 percent live, cheetahs live in deserts and dune or hilly forests in subtropical regions, and in meadows, forests and mountains.
She lives in the Northern Cape province of South Africa, where the temperature drops to minus 15 degrees Celsius, and in Malawi, where the temperature rises to about 45 degrees Celsius.
Vincent van der Merwe, a cheetah conservationist in South Africa, told me that finding a new natural habitat would not be a constraining problem “as long as there are enough prey to feed on, that they live and breed in environments teeming with predators and coexist with lions, leopards and spotted hyenas.” and wild dogs.”
But there are other concerns, as Cheetahs often infiltrate farmlands to hunt livestock, which leads to conflict between them and humans. But most importantly, it is targeted by other powerful predators.
“They are sensitive animals, they are quick to move, but they avoid conflict,” says Jhala.
In South Africa, lions and hyenas cause about half of all cheetah deaths, and even stray dogs are also known to attack them.
“The cheetah can outrun any other large cat, but it often finds it difficult to defend its killed prey, so it is snatched from it,” says Mahesh Rangarajan, a wildlife historian. “.
That’s why, experts say, cheetah grows best in fenced reserves. “The numbers of cheetahs living in unfenced areas are decreasing due to habitat loss and retaliatory killings,” van der Merwe says. “The reserves in India are also largely unfenced, which indicates the potential for human-wildlife conflict.” .
When van der Merwe visited India in April to assess potential relocation sites for these wild animals, he found the Kono National Park Reserve a suitable habitat for cheetahs. On a mixture of woodland and grassy pastures, much like where the cheetah live in South Africa, there are no lions in the park, but tigers remain a concern as well.”
Van der Merwe believes that the best habitat for the cheetah in India will be the fenced tiger reserve in the Mukundra Hills, where the population of animals that might attack them is low.
“I have an inner feeling that success will be guaranteed in this reserve, and it can be used for the growth and reproduction of cheetahs, and the use of excess animals for resettlement in other reserves,” he says.
But conservationists in India remain skeptical of this idea. They say that cheetahs need very large areas to live in, and natural habitats of between 5,000 and 10,000 square kilometers would be ideal for them.
Says Dr. K. Olhas Karanth, one of India’s leading conservationists: “These habitats should be free of humans, dogs, tigers or big-spotted leopards” while providing enough wild prey for the cheetah.
He stresses that most of the former Indian leopard’s habitats are shrinking due to the great pressure to provide areas of land.
“The purpose of the resettlement should be to grow a viable population of dozens of cheetahs that grow and breed in the wild. It doesn’t help to just put some animals in a zoo, as such a project will be doomed to failure.”
But wildlife experts such as Dr. Jhala are optimistic about the return of animal species essential to biodiversity or threatened with extinction to the Indian prairies.
“In any reintroduction of animals to an environment, you need at least 20 animals, and we are looking to import 40 cheetahs over the next five years,” says Jhala.