Under the ambitious ‘Project Cheetah’ of the Indian government, the reintroduction of cheetahs, that were extinct in the country since 1952, was undertaken according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) guidelines.
However, notably, in the past few months, three cheetahs have already died at the national park, leading to questions being raised with the park management and administration.
A female cheetah named Jwala, brought from Namibia, gave birth to four cubs in March. One of her cubs has died, the officials said on Tuesday, making it the fourth death in just two months.
8 cheetahs (5 females and 3 males) were brought from Namibia as part of the project and released into an enclosure by PM Modi on his 72nd birthday. Later on, 12 more were brought from South Africa and rehabilitated to Kuno National Park in February.
The ambitious plan is to release a total of 50 over the next decade.
With another death, the programme is being called into question amid already growing concerns that the cheetahs’ new habitat was unsuitable.
Scientists in India leading the reintroduction efforts have said deaths are to be expected with such a project and that the four cubs were also born after their mother was brought to India.
Wildlife experts are sceptical of the reintroduction experiment, though, even as India’s supreme court observed that Kuno National Park is ‘not suitable’ for the animals who are used to wide, open spaces in their African habitats.
So far only 3 of the big cats have been released into the park, while 17 remain in captivity in the enclosure, raising questions about adequacy of the training and equipment provided to officers-in-charge.
“The Forest department team is engaged in ascertaining the cause of death,” he added.
‘Project Tiger’, initiated way in 1972, has gone a long way in boosting India’s reputation in the arae of wildlife conservation, as tiger numbers went up to just under 3000 in 2019.
One hopes ‘Project Cheetah’ is just as wildly successful.
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