South Africa and Namibia experts express concerns about the cheetahs in Kuno, as 9th cheetah dies

South African and Namibian experts from the ‘National Cheetah Project Steering Committee,’ under which 20 cheetahs have been translocated to India beginning last September, have written to the Supreme Court expressing their anguish over being kept in the dark and have raised ‘serious concerns‘ over the project’s management.

Another cheetah named Dhatri (Tiblisi)died at Kuno National Park, taking the death count to 9.

Brought from Namibia last September, Dhatri was released into the wild and the forest department officials had been trying to re-capture it for weeks to examine its health.

However, on Wednesday morning they found the animal dead with inflammation near its neck. The cause of death is yet to be confirmed, and a post-mortem is underway.

A male cheetah died in July in a similar way with wounds on its neck, which were later linked to infections and wounds, which could have been aggravated by the use of radio collars and the high humidity in the region because of the monsoon.

Following further discussions and comments from international experts, the Cheetah Steering Committee then recommended that all of these big cats released into the wild be now brought back into bomas (enclosures).

The experts are of the opinion that the deaths ‘could have been prevented by better monitoring of the animals and more appropriate’ and timely ‘veterinary care.’

The first set of eight cheetahs from Namibia were released into the Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on September 17 last year and another 12 cheetahs landed from South Africa this February.

Since the first two cheetahs were released in the wild on March 11, five adults and three cubs have died in Kuno.

On a petition filed by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), the Supreme Court in January 2020 had lifted the ban it imposed on the cheetah project in 2013.

The court continues to monitor the project, but there has been skepticism both in India and abroad.

Around the same time, letters were addressed to the Supreme Court the director of Namibia’s Cheetah Conservation Fund, flagging ‘communication and reporting’ issues.

The foreign experts’ ‘opinions ‘are being ‘ignored’ and they ‘have become mere window dressing’ for the project, is what the general feeling seems to be among the community.

Government sources said that some experts have since disassociated themselves from the letter.