Jaguar returns to India after 70 years of absence According to Reuters


© Reuters. A cheetah rests after preparing to move to India at the CCF center in Otjiwarongo, Namibia, September 12, 2022. Courtesy of the Cheetah Conservation Foundation / Document broadcast via REUTERS


By Gloria Dickie and Tanvi Mehta

LONDON/NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Radio-necked African cheetahs step out into the grasslands of Kuno National Park in central India, their final destination after a 5,000-mile (8,000 km) journey ) from Namibia has been criticized by some conservationists.

The arrival of the big cats – the fastest land animals on Earth – coincides with the 72nd birthday of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who released the first cat into the park on Saturday. This is the culmination of a 13-year effort to restore a species that disappeared from India some 70 years ago.

The premium project is the first time wild cheetahs have been moved across continents to be released. It has raised questions from scientists, who say the government should do more to protect the country’s struggling wildlife.

The cheetahs – five females and three males – arrive after a two-day plane and helicopter journey from the African savannah, and are expected to spend two to three months in a large tract of land 6 square kilometers (2 sq mi) inside the park in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.

If all goes well with the Kuno adaptation, the cats will be released to run through 5,000 square kilometers (2,000 square miles) of forest and grasslands, sharing the landscape with leopards, sloth bears and hyenas. stripes.

Another 12 cheetahs are expected to join the fledgling Indian population from South Africa next month. And as India gathers more funds for the 910 million rupees ($11.4 million) project, much of it funded by the state-owned Indian Oil, the country hopes to eventually grow its population. about 40 cats.

SP Yadav of the National Tiger Reserve says the 1952 Indian cheetah extinction is the only time the country has lost a large mammal since independence.

“It is our moral and ethical responsibility to bring it back.”

But some Indian conservation experts have called the effort a “fantasy project” that ignores the fact that the African cheetah – a similar but separate subspecies to the critically endangered Asian jaguar currently found only in Iran – not native to the Indian subcontinent.

And with India’s 1.4 billion population scrambling for land, biologists worry leopards won’t have enough space to roam without being killed by predators or humans.

Last year, India joined a United Nations commitment to preserve 30% of its land and oceans by 2030, but today less than 6% of the country’s territory is protected.

Bringing back cheetahs “is our effort towards the environment and wildlife conservation,” Modi said.


While cheetahs today are often associated with Africa, the word “cheetah” comes from the Sanskrit word “chitraka”, which means “spotted species”.

At one point, the Asian jaguar was widespread across North Africa, the Middle East, and throughout India. During the era of the Mughal Empire, tamed cheetahs served as royal hunting companions, hunting their prey on behalf of their owners.

But the hunters then turned their weapons on the cheetah itself. Today, there are only 12 left in the arid regions of Iran.

Project Cheetah, begun in 2009 under the government of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, seems to offer India an opportunity to correct its historical mistakes and strengthen the country’s environmental reputation.

According to Yadav, India’s successes in managing the world’s largest wild tiger population show that it has the capacity to bring back the cheetah.

However, even among African countries, “there is very little (resettlement) of cheetahs into large areas or no successful fences,” said Kim Young-Overton, the cheetah program director. at Panthera, a global feral cat conservation organization.

To help the leopard succeed, the government is relocating villagers from Bagcha near Kuno. Officials have also vaccinated dogs in the area against diseases that can spread to cats.

And wildlife officials checked the park’s prey, making sure there were enough spotted deer, green gaur, wild boar and porcupine to sustain the cheetah’s diet.

Oil of India has committed more than 500 million rupees ($6.3 million) to the project over the next five years.


Some Indian scientists say modern India presents challenges that animals of the past did not face.

A cheetah needs a lot of space to roam. An area of ​​100 square kilometers (38 square miles) can house six to 11 tigers, 10 to 40 lions, but only one cheetah.

Wildlife biologist Ullas Karanth, Director of the Wildlife Research Center in Bengaluru, said that once the cheetahs cross the Kuno’s unfenced boundary, “they will be knocked down in six months by domestic dogs, by leopards”.

“Or they will kill a goat, and the villagers will poison them” in response.

Poaching concerns have prevented another project involving a 2013 Supreme Court order to move some of the world’s last surviving Asian lions from their sole reserve in the state of Gujarat. western India to Kuno. Now, the cheetahs will take over that space.

“Jaguars can’t be India’s burden,” said wildlife biologist Ravi Chellam of the Asian Lion Science Foundation. “These are African animals found in dozens of locations. Asian lions are a unique population. A simple look at the situation shows which species must be prioritized.”

Other conservation experts say the promise of leopard restoration for India is worth the challenge.

Conservation biologist Laurie Marker, founder of the Cheetah Conservation Foundation, who is leading the project, said: “Gepa plays an important role in grassland ecosystems.”

Marker and her collaborators will help oversee cat settlement, hunting, and breeding in the years to come.

Modi urges people to be patient as the cats adjust. “For them to be able to make Kuno National Park their home, we’ll have to give these Cheetahs a few months.”

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